DWP hiring new fraud agents amidst more benefit claimant bashing

  • Post last modified:May 16, 2024
  • Reading time:7 mins read

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is once again ramping up its benefit criminal rhetoric around Universal Credit. Specifically, it has announced its plans to hire 2,500 ‘external agents’ to “crack down on” so-called benefit fraud.

In tandem with this, DWP boss Mel Stride and Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt penned an article for the Times bashing Universal Credit claimants. The announcement, followed by the pair’s remarks fed into the Tory’s usual divisive ableist and classist benefit claimant-bashing narrative.

DWP ramps up recruitment

On 13 May, the DWP published updates to its flagship ‘Fraud Plan’. As the Big Issue reported, part of this involves hiring:

2,500 external agents to tackle fraud and error in the universal credit system.

Combined with the DWP’s own agents, it takes the headcount to nearly 6,000 people hired to investigate universal credit claimants.

Alongside this, the Big Issue explained that the DWP will introduce:

a new civil penalty to “punish fraudsters”, partly-automated checks, and £70m invested into “advanced data analytics” which will see machine learning used to detect fraud.

Of course, this comes off the back of the DWP’s recent recruitment drive and AI roll-out. Specifically, as the Canary’s Rachel Charlton-Dailey wrote for the Big Issue in April, the DWP posted jobs for surveillance officers “to snoop on benefit claimants”.

Then, also in April, the Canary reported on the department’s £1.5m in awards to obscure AI and tech companies.

Ostensibly, the surveillance “snoops” jobs furnish the DWP’s work to curtail so-called benefit fraud. Meanwhile, the AI services appear to be part of the government’s drive to push people into work. Together, the two exhibit the Tory’s two-pronged approach to demonising poor, sick, and disabled people receiving state welfare.

So predictably, DWP boss Mel Stride said that the latest updates were part of the government’s overall strategy for:

scaling up the fight against those stealing from the taxpayer

Universal Credit: a “lifestyle choice”

Of course, the government’s fixation on alleged benefit claimant fraud doesn’t stand up to the facts. Nor is it the taxpayer money-saving scheme the Tory’s avow it to be.

Firstly, this is because a sizeable portion of the DWP’s fraud figures isn’t from actual claimants. As the Canary’s Steve Topple previously pointed out:

much of the £8.3bn the DWP promotes as fraud (and that the media dutifully laps up) is just based on assumptions and guesswork. In 2020/21, 152,000 claims the DWP valued at £1.9bn were not even real claimants.

Then, there’s the fact that its overall strategy will purportedly save a grand total of £1.3bn. Of course, as I raised for the Canary before, this pales in comparison to the multiple billions in Covid PPE fraud the government has written off.

Regardless, the Tories have continued this pervasive benefit claimants “stealing from the taxpayer” strapline.

Notably, in an article for the Times, Stride teamed up with Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt to double-down on this.

Unsurprisingly, they dredged up the Tory’s age-old benefits as a “lifestyle choice” guff. This buttressed a reference to the number of people out of work due to long-term sickness. In other words, the Tory’s are hell-bent on pushing chronically ill and disabled people into work.

Tories “punching down”

However, as the Guardian reported, Trade Union Congress’s (TUC) general secretary Paul Nowak called out the Stride and Hunt’s comments:

Unemployment shot up by over 160,000 over the last quarter and record numbers of people are becoming economically inactive because they are too sick to work.

Instead of punching down, the Tories should be tackling our sky-high waiting lists and improving access to treatment. And they should be laser-focused on improving the quality of work in this country.

People need jobs they can build a life on. But under the Conservatives we have seen an explosion of low-paid and insecure work that has led to eye-watering levels of in-work poverty.

Before handing out lectures, Jeremy Hunt and Mel Stride should try surviving on a zero-hours contract.

Essentially, their flippant and stigmatising remarks entirely overlook the reasons for the rising rates of unemployment through chronic illness.

Recent analysis from the TUC for instance, highlighted that economic inactivity from chronic illness has risen by more than 500,000 for women in just five years. Similarly, separate figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in April revealed that long Covid rates are soaring over 2 million people – and on the rise.

Both analyses pointed to the pandemic and its role in a mass disabling of the population. However, the TUC went further and laid blame at the feet of “overstretched” public services, insecure work, and low pay.

Ultimately, it’s easier to pin blame on people pushed into poverty, sickness, and disability than the state of the UK’s exploitative, abusive labour market, and broken healthcare system. At the end of the day, fixing the public’s attention on the non-issue of benefit fraud is the perfect diversion from the Tory corruption and incompetence.

Feature image via Facebook – Sky News

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