Cracking down on fraud, or punishing the poor?
UK Prime Minister David Cameron is announcing today an "uncompromising" crackdown on benefit fraud, including using credit ratings agencies to look at claimants’ spending patterns.
According to Cameron, "We need to do more to stop fraud – £1.5 billion of hard earned taxpayers' money is being stolen from the taxpayer”, while administrative error costs another £1.6 billion.
He declares: “We will take the necessary measures to stop fraud happening in the first place; root out and take tough action against those found committing fraud; and make sure the stolen money is paid back."
The PM avoids any mention of the £1.2-£1.3 billion which the government admits to underpaying benefit claimants, some of the poorest in society. Nor does he draw attention to the massive £16 billion which it is estimated goes unclaimed in benefits and tax credits. Meanwhile, experts reckon tax evasion costs the country about £70 billion a year, but this seems to be of little interest to Cameron, since those responsible are well-off.
Cameron’s crackdown on claimants will appeal to some people: as the ancient wisdom of the Book of Proverbs puts it, “The poor are shunned even by their neighbours, but the rich have many friends” (14.20).
But the PM might do well to heed the warning in the same chapter: “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honours God” (14.31).
© Savitri Hensman was born in Sri Lanka. She works in the voluntary sector in community care and equalities in the UK, and she is also a respected writer on Christianity and social justice. Savi is an Ekklesia associate.
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