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Overheard in the Surgery!

Ooh matron (not really).
I was waiting to see the doctor (stress and tiredness I think are inducing weird motion sickness) and listening to the local BBC station. Apparently benefit fraud is on the increase in Bristol - or at least they reported a windfall of prosecutions.
Well that's great; no one is going to defend benefit fraud, though personally I can't see it as much more than a victimless crime perpetrated by people ruled by even bigger crooks. I don't lose much sleep over it, sorry. But, as a claimant, I have to be seen to disapprove, which is fair enough I suppose. I don't condone it regardless.
I have to wonder though how much money is spent chasing these people? I'm not the first to make this point, and I won't be the last. Surely if someone's only crime is that they have claimed fraudulently, even if it's a few grand, is there any point throwing even more money in what is clearly an exercise in making an example of these people? Send a few down as a message to the masses that the capitalist system WILL break you and WILL win - but at what cost? Isn't this the absurd contradiction of capitalism? It's creating problems where none ought to or need to exist.
According to the council's benefit fraud webpage they investigated 667 allegations of benefit fraud. We prosecuted 61 people and a further 108 received warnings or were fined. So not even half of those allegations were substantiated. What does that say about our society? We know that the percentage of benefit money paid due to fraud is miniscule (the total is about a third of that lost to error, with both totalling around 5bn). How much did each investigation cost, what were the procedures used (were they too intrusive with people on ridiculous stakeouts)?. What was the cost of each prosecution, including the cost of jail time to the state etc? How much does it cost just to warn someone? It's just ridiculous; it's like the drug war - we criminalise people and then create an industry out of it so that some can profit (private security/investigators for starters). How about the cost of the freephone benefit fraud snitchline?
And where is the phoneline to shop a dodgy banker or mp? 'Report a fraudster now' - wait, you have to establish guilt first. Aren't we supposed to live in a presumed innocent society, or is that a privilege one must concede while unemployed (or even employed!)? Given the rate of prosecutions mentioned above it's a bit rich to presume guilt!
Of course benefit fraud is easy meat for the right wing press; it's largely impossible to defend (though I maintain that, where innocent people are not hurt, conned or manipulated I find it hard to really care). So as a sensible anti-capitalist I don't condone it. But let's have some facts and some perspective. It's easy to criticise people for making these choices, but when you're poor (and yes, not all 'fraudsters' are poor) and claiming while doing a few hours cash in hand - are you really the bogeyman?


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