måndag 6 april 2009

Denounce your neighbour

My local council in Brighton distributes a propaganda sheet called "City News", explaining what wonderful things it is doing. The latest issue contains a feature headed "Tip us off on benefit fraud", with a story about a named villain who was caught following an anonymous call to the fraud office, having cheated the council out of £34,000 in housing benefit.

I do not condone benefit fraud but this looks ludicrous in the same week as the news is full of reports of MPs making absurd claims for expenses. A strongly worded letter from the Leader of the Council to the appropriate authorities would be more in order, pointing out that it is difficult for the council's efforts at fighting fraud to be taken seriously when the leaders of the country are doing the same thing on a vastly bigger scale, to say nothing of the robbery of the thrifty that is presently in full swing. The widespread view now is that if you steal a bottle of milk, you go to prison - but fiddle a few hundred billion and the government gives you more - of taxpayers' money. There is a lack of credibility about the whole business.

The suggestion that people should shop their neighbours is destructive of community trust and lays people open to blackmail. It is the same technique as was used by the Gestapo under the Nazis and the Stasi in the time of the East German communists. This is not the way things are
supposed to work in Britain.

There is of course a fundamental problem due to the complexity of the benefits system and the poverty traps built in, which lead to welfare dependency and moral decay. An acquaintance of mine was asked to repay one benefit but would have qualified for a different benefit to which they were entitled, and I know of others who are entitled to benefit but don't claim.

Councils ought to be working through the local government associations to get the legislation simplified and rationalised to get rid of poverty traps, provide proper incentives to work instead of living off benefits, and to ensure that benefits reach all those who are entitled to them. The main beneficiaries of the housing benefit system are in fact landlords, since the system serves to prop up rental levels at artificially high levels. Whether landlords should be subsidised in this way is an interesting question but it doesn't sound quite right to me.

And whilst on the subject of saving public money, City News could usefully be at the top of the list in the next round of council cuts.

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