Headlines: September 21st, 2004

Research by the Department of Work and Pensions has revealed a league table of crime. Offences committed against another person, for example victims of drink driving accidents or burglary top the league. Next comes benefit fraud with its own league table. Housing benefit fraud was thought to be the most serious because it is a deliberate and systematic fraud, followed by Incapacity Benefit fraud and Jobseekers’ Allowance fraud. Fraudulent claims for state pension were seen as the least serious. At the lower end of the crime league were insurance fraud, TV license fee evasion, tax evasion and shoplifting.The way people viewed fraud, both in the minds of the general public and of fraudsters themselves, meant there was more sympathy for those in greatest need who commit fraud. A single person who is working and claiming benefit was felt to be committing a much more serious offence than a person who had children and whose motivation was driven by need rather than greed. The report shows that people believe that fraudsters should be compelled to put something back into society, especially if they have a skill or expertise that could benefit the community. Community service orders are therefore favoured.

The research involved eight focus groups, each with ten members of the general public and interviews with twenty-one benefits claimants who had received sanctions for committing a fraud since 1999. The aim of the research was to evaluate the effectiveness of the sanctions regime imposed on benefit claimants that commit fraud. The sanctions will now be revised in the light of the research.