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A Tale of Two Frauds

In 2009, a Lancashire mother was found guilty of defrauding the state of £45,000. She claimed over £45,000 in housing benefit, council tax benefit and income support by not including her husband’s details on the claim forms.

She pleaded guilty and was jailed for 16 months.

A week ago, two men from Leeds were also found guilty of defrauding the state of £45,000. They made up false invoices and documents in order to make false VAT claims worth £45,000.

They pleaded guilty, but avoided jail. Instead they were given community sentences, and made to pay court costs.

What makes these cases interesting is that they were for exactly the same amount: £45,000 dishonestly defrauded from the state – and all defendants pleaded guilty to the charges. So why is it that benefit fraud is considered so much worse?

Why, when benefit fraud costs us £1.1 billion per year and tax evasion an estimated £70 billion, is so much more effort and opprobrium directed at benefit fraud?

Of course both crimes were wrong. But is someone who commits benefit fraud a danger to society – who needs to be locked away for over a year of their life? I don’t think so.

It’s the inevitable result of a society where successive governments and the tabloid media (step forward the Sun and Daily Mail) have whipped up hatred against those out of work. That prejudice is reflected in the sentences.

The same economic crime means very different time.


  1. Duncan says:

    I think it’s reaching the stage where we need to try and organise the unemployed – like the NUWM in the thirties – to attempt to reclaim the argument.

    It is an incredibly clever political achievement of the right that, even at a time of rising unemployment and no jobs, society tends to blame the unemployed for their unemployment and sees all benefit claimants as essentially fraudulent (therefore the genuinely fraudulent appear like the worst criminals around). There is a danger that the Labour Party uses some language that helps to maintain this “blame the victim” hegemony rather than to challenge it. I’ve heard echoes of David Cameron’s much-used “people who do the right thing” from the Labour benches, and we need to change the language. “Do the right thing” appears to be “get a job” (and, no doubt, pay your taxes) without any kind of recognition that there aren’t enough jobs. Ed Miliband at the weekend talked about not wanting any “working people” to be in poverty in the UK. I know “working people” is a sort of New New Labour euphemism for the working class, but even so you could easily read it to mean “those in work” or “those who do the right thing”.

    It is a modern version of “are you thinking what we’re thinking?” because “people who do the right thing” could be an entirely innocent and progressive formulation – the “wrong thing” is entirely in the mind of the listener.

    Obviously any unemployed organisation would be better started and led by unemployed people themselves (although the problem is they might be too busy stacking shelves for no money on the work programme). The work programme could be a good place to start, as there is clearly broad disquiet about this. However, it is worth bearing in mind that “proper” Tories are 100% behind the work programme – they think anybody claiming benefits SHOULD be working to pay them off. The logic that these could be properly paid jobs for somebody seems to escape them.

  2. honesty says:

    Obviously any unemployed organisation would be better started and led by unemployed people themselves.

    I can’t agree with that. By extension then only white people must only be supporting white people back to work and so forth, as the experiances match.

    Tax evasion also is an imprisonable offence and is more likely to end up as a custodial sentence than benefit fraud.
    Please don’t lump tax efficiences in with evasion which you are heavily implying. If it is within the rules then it is legal. If you don’t like the rules then work to change them. Don’t attack the people that work within the rules

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