Sunday, January 18, 2015

Bishop attacks punitive benefit sanctions and mistaken fraud rhetoric

The Anglican Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Rev James Newcome, has spoken out strongly against punitive sanctions and misleading claims about benefit cheats.

The number of people falsely claiming benefits is incredibly low, meaning that tough sanctions are mostly causing trauma to the vulnerable, critics say.

Pete Moran, head of the Cumbria Law Centre, has backed the bishop's comments about the huge gap between public perception of the extent of benefit fraud and the actual level.

The bishop was giving his talk as chair of the Cumbria Welfare Reform Commission (CWRC).

The commission has held a series of hearings across the county to look at the impact of government benefit changes on residents and to identify ways to minimise their negative impact on many of the poorest people in society.

Bishop James told a recent meeting: “Much of the rhetoric around benefit fraud is largely exaggerated.”

Just 90p in every £100 went to those claiming benefits questionably, but when people were encouraged to report their neighbours, 74 out of 75 people who thought their they were committing benefit fraud turned out to be wrong.

Sanctions based on false premises have “become pretty punitive”, the Commission heard.

Moran told the local News & Star newspaper: “Overwhelmingly the people we see have very poor mental health and often very poor physical health and many wouldn’t know how to cheat the benefits system.

“I don’t think things have been helped in recent years by some TV programmes focusing on the claimants and attempting to accentuate things.”

The Law Centre helps an estimated 600 people with benefit claims annually. It believes the amount of fraud to be “negligible”.

Bishop James Newcome said that the group most deleteriously affected by the recent welfare changes was adults with disabilities.