Benefits Fraud: a religion backed up by politics?

Dr Rowan Williams
Dr Rowan Williams

The benefits system shake-up, currently being implemented by our government, is a topic of hot debate in many quarters… Vociferous politicians in opposition have been venting their spleen and seizing every opportunity to hammer the last rusty nail into the lid of the centre-right politics coffin. Now even the church is getting in on the act…

Despite the differences of ayes and nays from opposing sides of parliament, and the political pop at government from the head of the Church of England, what of the human impacts and the implications for our society?

Every legitimate benefit claimant across the land is obviously worried and concerned about their future financial security, and quite rightly so. We live in a civilised world where we supposedly help and support those who are less fortunate than ourself. Don’t we?

All the fraudulent benefit claimants should be even more worried than those in genuine need but I doubt they will be. We don’t seem to have a very good national track record when it comes to allocating tickets on the gravy train!

Benefit fraud cheat avoids jail (31May11): A woman narrowly avoided a prison sentence today after fraudulently claiming £37,000 in benefits despite her family owning a portfolio of properties worth more than £1 million… (

Hardly a day goes by where you don’t read yet another item about benefits fraud; undoubtedly a major factor in the deficit and shortfall within the public purse of the welfare state.

Benefits cheat who claimed thousands because he could ‘barely walk’ worked as a courier and supermarket shelf stacker: A courier escaped jail after being caught on camera lifting and delivering heavy boxes – while raking in thousands of pounds of benefits by claiming he could barely walk… (

Many would attribute this exponential rise in professional spongers to the soft and cuddly politics of our previous administration. The Labour party is seen by many as the party of those “ripping off our society” by abusing the benefits system (see BBC news). Unsurprisingly however, the leader Ed Miliband is saying; Labour must become a party that “rewards contribution, not worklessness”. It may be a highly commendable comment but it’s also one which is  long overdue. It’s also one that probably has more to do with a last-ditch effort to unite an apparently dysfunctional and warring party (see BBC news), that and the moribundity of his party leadership!

However, as Norman Smith Chief political correspondent at BBC Radio 4 points out; “Mr Miliband wants to put his party on the side of the “squeezed middle” – those who pay their taxes, don’t rely on state help and contribute to society through supporting voluntary bodies and joining community organisations…” Further evidence of politicians currying favour with the electorate, rather than sticking to espousing their personal political beliefs per chance?

But enough of the politics, how come religion is suddenly trying to get in on the act? Is the heated political debate seen as something of a PR opportunity by the church, who arguably are another organisation suffering from a reduction in followers?

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, may have criticised the government recently (see BBC news) however in my view, which isn’t unique; he’s simply raising a question as to the rights and wrongs of the politics and our government’s policy. (It’s something I do on a regular basis, I just get far fewer listeners than he does.) The Church v State debacle is nothing new, in fact it is something of a long-standing tradition (see BBC News) and probably rightly so. Having an educated opinion about politics, and the possible outcome from any implemented policy, is actually a healthy aspect of our democratic process.

But as I said earlier, I’d like to put all the politics aside for now and look at the humanitarian and social issues. I’d also like to totally disregard the religious aspects however that would appear to be a little more difficult. After all, haven’t many actually turned the claiming of benefits into something of an art form or ‘religion’? 😉

Religion: a cultural system that establishes symbols that relate humanity to spirituality and moral values… Many religions have traditions that are intended to give meaning to life… They tend to derive morality, ethics or a preferred lifestyle from their ideas about human nature… The word religion is sometimes used interchangeably with faith or belief system, but religion differs from private belief in that it has a public aspect. Most religions have organized behaviors… (

And, in pursuit of their chosen ‘religion’ the actual levels of depravity that some people will stoop to simply beggars belief for many, me included and trust me, I’ve seen how low some people can go when chasing some ‘free money’…

Two women have admitted leaving the corpse of a dead grandmother unburied at their home for up to six months while one of them kept her benefits… (BBC News)

About £1.6bn is lost through benefit and tax credit fraud each year (source BBC), all of which is ‘our’ money. We gave that money to the government to help those less fortunate than we are, not for some greedy git to support their lifestyle choices.

It is therefore hardly surprising that the government are trying to balance their books and not before time. Some disability groups however have warned against exaggerating the scale of the problem, simply to justify proposed cuts. I for one can’t see a problem in that per se.

It will obviously be an uphill struggle in convincing the tax payer that they [govt] are doing the right thing. And, in an attempt to ‘educate’ the public, Ministers have tried to highlight the impact of benefit fraud by publishing some of the more unusual excuses used by people found guilty of cheating (see BBC video). To my mind and in somewhat simplistic terms…

Benefit fraud is THEFT – Simple! But unfortunately, it has become something of a national right to far too many?

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