Pride comes before benefit fraud

January 2, 1998

MANY social security fraudsters do not conform to stereotypical views on their motives, a research project has found.

Although their reasons for fiddling the system were partly financial, there was also a real sense that the welfare state had betrayed them, said researcher Hartley Dean, a reader in social policy at Luton University.

He said 35 people interviewed, all but one of whom had not been detected, were not well-informed about their rights to social security and could have reaped much greater rewards had they really wanted to defraud the system.

Rather, their motivation stemmed from a belief that they were not getting what they were entitled to. This had led some to develop their own code of morality, as well as a failure to associate themselves with an underclass that relied on welfare.

"The underclass is always someone else. They say 'I want a proper job - give me a chance'," he explained.

But often what this group did not want was very low-status, poorly paid work that undermined their sense of dignity. This was the problem inherent in the hope of getting welfare recipients back into the workforce.

The Economic and Social Research Council-funded study, Economic Rationality and Welfare Citizenship, is part of the Economic Beliefs and Behaviour programme.

It found that failing to declare earnings from part-time work was the most common example of welfare fraud. Others included exaggerating medical conditions to obtain incapacity payments, claiming housing benefits dishonestly and failing to disclose cohabitation.

Dr Hartley Dean said the prospect of losing Pounds 1 in benefit for every pound earned above Pounds 15 was partly why many did not declare income from jobs. A more significant reason was the unreliable nature of the work available. "This means the hassle involved in getting what you're entitled to week by week becomes a nightmare. If you come off benefit it can take you weeks to re-establish your claim ... many people would like to be legit, but the risks in doing so are too great," he said.

In nearly half the cases, employers were found to be colluding with welfare recipients, who were part of the peripheral labour market. Dr Hartley Dean said many employers effectively regarded the social security system as a form of subsidy.

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