Saturday, 21 July 2012

Grayling and the Spoonie Crime Spree

Chronic illness and disabilities are famous for leading people to live glamorously lavish and exciting lives, right? Of course not - they're a pain in the arse to deal with on a daily basis and nobody in their right mind would choose them over perfect health, especially when you've got the fury of a hundred politicians and tabloids weighing on your shoulders.

Okay, maybe not a hundred. But they definitely shout loud enough to make up for low numbers.

The Daily Mail is by far one of the worst culprits for promoting the 'benefit scrounging scum' rhetoric when it comes to illness and it's interesting to note how the paper creates a massive contrast between people of different capabilities: people who make a miraculous advance or recovery in the face of undeniable odds are the best thing since sliced bread while anyone who stubbornly continues to remain unwell and requires a bit of financial assistance through benefits without any 'cute' or 'inspiration' factor is cast by the wayside as an evil-burden-on-the-hardworking-taxpayer type.

(Note: I've been ill for several months and haven't made any steps towards a miracle recovery but I'm not on benefits so I'm a bit of a grey area to the Mail. But I do have facial piercings and bright blue hair, so I guess they can accuse me of being shifty on the back of that somehow - swings and roundabouts.)

Today the Mail teamed up with Chris Grayling, the minster for work and pensions, in a heroic move to generate even more hatred and suspicion of people claiming sickness benefits, thundering the "truly alarming discovery" that a piece of research has found 23% of claimants have a criminal record. Their efforts would be a laughable use of statistics if it wasn't part of an already vicious campaign against chronically ill or disabled people, so let's lift the rock and see what scuttles out when we look more closely.

Obviously Grayling has already seized on this statistic as proof of how noble he is in taking on this challenge of reducing ESA' 0.5% fraud rate and Incapacity Benefit's menacing 0.3%, but do even a minute's worth of digging and the claim already looks hugely suspect - it's based on anything from a caution upwards within the past 10 years, so some unlucky guy who got caught smoking a badly-timed joint ages ago and fell ill with something completely unrelated years later would be portrayed on the same level by Grayling as someone who was involved with something far more serious.

There's no information about which types of crime were committed, which health condition people are claiming for or even whether they were on ESA/IB payments at the time, which leaves the door wide open to people projecting stereotypes onto the statistics. The author of the article seems to be relying on the tried and tested image of someone faking a bad back or mobility issues on this one as seen in this fine piece of asshattery: 

The findings from a Government research project show a high proportion of claimants who claim they are unfit for work appear to be fit enough to commit crime.

No mention of these records being from the past decade and not since people have been on incapacity benefit or ESA, just a crude idea thrown out there without any context. It's a very revealing assumption on the author's perspective on the matter, but it's also very helpful - it tells you not to expect anything thorough or balanced from this article when it's leading you to believe there's an epidemic of people jumping out of their wheelchairs to embark on a crime spree or two. It's simply a cheap device to shift papers and bolster the Coalition's confidence.

Another big red flag on these stats is the lack of any mention of how these statistics compare to the national average. I couldn't find anything specifically for the past 10 years but Nacro provide an interesting statistic from Home Office research which suggests that 25% of the working-age population have a criminal conviction - higher than the 21% for incapacity benefit and not too far off the 28% for ESA. From what I can tell this doesn't appear to include cautions like the Daily Mail's statistic, so going by Grayling's standards this could be even higher.

It's kind of funny this sort of accusation is being trumpeted by the same government who promised to bring criminal convictions and records "back to common-sense levels" in 2010 in response to Nacro's findings. Mind you, they're also wasting more money through administration error on these benefits than they are on fraudulent claims (four times as much for Incapacity Benefit - 1.2%). Getting your own house in order might be a better idea for Grayling to follow here when it would provide him with far more savings than hounding people who are already in a trying situation as it is, but what we're probably seeing here is a man who is more keen on securing his own career and scapegoating than someone who genuinely wants to improve things for people in the UK. I'd love to be proven wrong on this but I really don't see it happening any time soon.

What would be especially interesting is if we could see a comparative set of statistics for people involved in politics and finance. After all, I'm fairly sure certain ministers' table-flinging antics would count as criminal damage for regular people, it's not like they're shining beacons of morality themselves. People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, regardless of how much money they have to pay for breakages.


  1. "People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, regardless of how much money they have to pay for breakages."

    Indeed. It's the same story here in France, where the Economy ministry has just announced a total of €3.864bn in fraud which robs the state of revenue. Scratch the surface though and you see that only €500bn of that is down to Social Security fraud. That's a drop in the ocean compared to the amount of tax-dodging by the rich and companies, which accounts for a massive €2.989bn.

    1. You´re so bloody right there re. tax-dodgers. And not just in France!

  2. Another great article, Most....