Letter: Subsidy for the exploited employee

Share
Related Topics
From Dr Hartley Dean

Sir: Last Wednesday (11 October), Peter Lilley duly observed the traditions of the Conservative Party Conference by raising the spectre of social security benefit fraud in order ritually to decry it. Obviously, benefit fraud cannot be a good thing, but what kind of a problem is it?

According to the British Social Attitudes survey, around a third of the population agrees that "most people on the dole are fiddling". In reality, the Social Security Benefit Agency's own best evidence is that around 5 per cent of income support claims, and around 3 per cent of unemployment benefit claims, can be proved to be fraudulent.

I have been involved in an Economic and Social Research Council-funded research project, ending this month, that has examined the attitudes and motivations of fraudulent benefit claimants. The findings suggest benefit fraud is certainly problematic for those involved in it, but that it is not necessarily the kind of problem Mr Lilley paints it to be.

First, there is no evidence that the current level of benefit fraud signals any erosion of the work ethic on the part of perpetrators, nor any lack of desire to participate in conventional lifestyles. The one thing guaranteed to dissuade virtually all our respondents from fraudulent claiming would have been the opportunity of reasonably paid employment.

Second, in a high proportion of cases, low-paying employers were directly colluding with fraudulent claimants. We met young people whose only prospect of reliable employment was with the kind of employer who not only expected them to "sign on", but gave them a half day off every fortnight in order to do so.

From the Government's point of view, it might be argued, the existence of benefit fraud is functional for its labour market strategy. Allowing benefit fraud represents a covert way of subsidising exploitative employers in a hypercasualised labour market, but without damaging labour supply incentives.

From the claimants' point of view, benefit fraud can be a stressful and largely unrewarding activity. Most of those to whom we spoke were uncomfortable about what they did and had not planned their fraud in a particularly effective way. For them, benefit fraud was not part of any sort of lifestyle choice.

Fraudulent claimants' notions of citizenship and responsibility were often highly ambiguous. Their conceptions appeared to have been impoverished through an erosion of the popular ideals of democratic welfare citizenship. This, of course, could signal a deeper problem for society at large. It is not, however, a problem that is usefully addressed by such devices as computerised "smart cards".

Yours faithfully,

Hartley Dean

Reader in Social Policy

Department of Social Studies,

University of Luton

Luton

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Read Next
RIP Voicemail?  

Voicemail has got me out of some tight corners, so let's not abandon it

Simon Kelner
A sculpture illustrating the WW1 Christmas Truce football match in Liverpool  

It's been 100 years since the Christmas Truce, but football is still changing the world

Jim Murphy and Dan Jarvis
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there