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Help us stop £1,000 billion benefit scroungers

Following David Cameron's promise of a crackdown on benefit "fraud", a revolting campaign has been launched in the Sun against "scroungers" and "cheats". Isn't it time for a parallel campaign against corporate fraudsters?
Guy Aitchison
13 August 2010

Following David Cameron's promise of a crackdown on benefit "fraud", a revolting campaign has been launched in the Sun against "scroungers" and "cheats". Readers are encouraged to report those they suspect of over-claiming benefits to the Sun who will presumably then expose, humiliate and demonise them as an example to others.

Take a look at the accompanying article. It really is a classic of the genre, worth studying by anyone interested in the "divide and rule" strategies of the corporate media in this country. There's the unrepentant young couple sat grinning in front of their widescreen TV and X-box ("all paid for by YOU"); there's the Somali family living in the Kensington mansion, the "hardline" Muslim cleric, the "Baby Machine", and even the "sick Raoul Moat fan". And no Sun article would be complete, of course, without the patriotic British squaddie fresh back from Afghanistan, juggling a job in construction with fathering a family and volunteering with the TA, doing his country "proud" whilst thousands of the feckless poor put it to "shame".

What the Sun won't say, of course, is that the cost of "benefit fraud" is actually relatively low and has been falling for years. At £1.1 billion it amounts to less than 1% of total benefit expenditure and less than half the costs incurred as a result of administrative errors in the Department for Work and Pensions. So there are clearly improvements which could be made to the system before we unleash the credit agencies on an already stigmatised group and risk deterring legitimate claimants.

But if we really want to make some savings in the welfare system we need to look elsewhere. Even if the government got its administrative house in order and achieved its utterly unrealistic goal of reducing benefit fraud far below what it is already, we're still only talking peanuts, in relative terms, at a mere £3 billion a year. If the government is really serious about saving money on the welfare system, it should follow the real money and take a look at the costs of corporate welfare.

Yes, whilst the costs of welfare fraud amongst the poor have been falling in recent years, the costs of corporate welfare (that staple of Anglo-American capitalism) have sky-rocketed. And I mean, really sky-rocketed. The cost of bailing out the banks since 2008 has added over £1 trillion to the UK's debt. All the while, the bankers who nearly ruined the economy, have been awarding themselves massive bonuses, allowing the "grasping, lazy layabouts to lead a luxury lifestyle funded by you"...as the Sun might put it. This is the real outrage committed against British taxpayers which we are now being asked to pay for.

Cameron and the Sun, of course, would rather you focused your rage on Chris and Jaimie and their flat-screen TV as the cuts begin to hurt. Which raises the question: Where is the left-wing publication with the resources to run an equivalent campaign against corporate welfare scroungers? Shouldn't we be thinking of a parallel campaign, with its own confidential informants' line, to uncover and expose where the real money has gone? Who are these bankers who have made off with our money? How many yachts do they have? Do they need that many? 

Part of telling the true story about how we got into this economic mess should involve personalising the narrative I think, just as the tabloids do so successfully with the "baby machine", Somali family et al. Indeed, the Sun's hated gallery of "shameless" claimants are classic tabloid tropes, but apart from "Fred the Shred", the former RBS boss who provoked public fury last year, who are the corporate fraudsters who need to be held to account? It's time they were named and shamed so we can remind ourselves who the real villains are who put the economy in the mess it's in.

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