Prior to Channel Four’s ‘Benefits Street’ being aired last night (6 January 2014), the tabloid press had primed its readers, with plenty of articles such as this one from the Daily Express, laden with Iain Duncan Smith-style rhetoric: ‘broken Britain, scroungers, workshy, burden on society’, etcetera.
UK ministers and their allies are fond of talking about the need to reduce the welfare bill. They give the impression that the welfare bill goes to feckless scroungers, but almost never mention any statistics about who is actually claiming the money.
The UK supreme court has confirmed that the government had broken the law through failing to supply adequate information about its work-or-starve schemes for jobless people. Yet, by and large, ministers are succeeding in inflicting terrible hardship on many unemployed and sick people, as Citizens Advice Bureau research reveals.
Benefit cheats will face sentences of up to 10 years, director of public prosecutions Keir Starmer QC has threatened. While punishing fraud by claimants – and frightening people who are honest but fear being targeted – will be popular with parts of the public, the lack of a sense of proportion is worrying.