New official figures have confirmed that only a “miniscule” proportion of spending on disability benefits is paid out to fraudulent claims, just weeks after the disability minister posted a “hostile” video on social media suggesting it was a serious problem.
There were calls for Tom Pursglove to resign last month when he posted a clumsy parody of a speech in the violent thriller Taken in which Liam Neeson’s character promises: “I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.”
Wearing a stab-proof vest in the video (pictured), which starts with blue flashing lights and police sirens, Pursglove says to the camera: “We will track you down. We will find you. And we will bring you to justice.”
The post linked to a news story about allegations of disability benefit fraud.
Dr Jay Watts, a disabled activist and consultant clinical psychologist, said at the time that she could not “emphasize enough how dangerous this messaging is, nor how damaging it can be to claimants’ mental health”.
But just weeks later, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has now published annual statistics on benefit fraud and error which show that estimated personal independence payment (PIP) fraud was just 0.2 per cent of PIP spending in 2022-23.
This was a fall of a third on the last time it was measured, in 2019-20, when it was still only 0.3 per cent of spending.
The £40 million lost to PIP fraud compares with an estimated £60 million in underpayments of PIP caused by DWP error in 2022-23.
Overpayments of employment and support allowance (ESA) due to fraud were higher, at an estimated £180 million in 2022-23, but this was still only an estimated 1.5 per cent of spending on ESA.
Rick Burgess, campaigns lead at Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, said: “The focus on fraud in disability benefits is simply disablist prejudice, fraud is not a systemic problem or significant feature of disability benefits.
“Anyone choosing to foreground fraud instead of the actual problems – poverty level payments [see separate story], invasive surveillance, an inaccessible, abusive, and unjust assessment and appeal system – is maliciously engaging in disinformation.
“Be it media, charity, political parties, or government, disabled people are sick of being used as hate figures for failed anti-welfare policy based upon prejudice.”
Disabled researcher Stef Benstead, author of Second Class Citizens, a “definitive” account of the harm caused to disabled people by a decade of cuts and reforms, said DWP was likely to have been aiming the video at two groups of people.
The first group is general members of the public, “who are to be made to think that fraud is rife in the social security system; to be made suspicious of anyone they think isn’t trying hard enough; and to be discouraged from voting Labour and encouraged to vote Conservative”.
The second group is sick and disabled people themselves, “who are to be frightened away from making a claim for fear of being investigated and hounded for potential fraud”.
She said: “From the other side, if the government did want to send a message that it was good at addressing fraud, what should it say?
“It should be clear that all forms of fraud are being addressed, such as identity theft and tax
“It should send a minister from the Ministry of Justice – not the minister for disabled people.
“It should also explain what it is doing to clear the court backlogs.
“But none of that would send a pejorative subliminal message about social security recipients.
“And it would risk showing up the failure of the past 13 years of mis-government in
the criminal courts; in crime prevention; and in ensuring that sick, disabled and impoverished people get the money that they need when they need it.”
Ken Butler, welfare and benefits policy adviser at Disability Rights UK, said: “Knowing as he must the miniscule level of PIP benefit fraud, it is shameful for the minister for disabled people to issue a video to bully and intimidate us.
“He would be better served by issuing a video to publicly apologise for the decade-long poor quality of PIP decision-making and assessment and committing to their reform and transformation.
“Highlighting the £19 billion of benefits support that goes unclaimed each year and promoting take-up would also not be amiss.”
Asked why the minister released the video when he knew PIP fraud was so low, a DWP spokesperson declined to comment, and instead sent the same statement the department issued in response to concerns about the Pursglove video last month.
That statement said: “The suspects in the video are alleged to have created a number of identities to defraud £800,000 from the government – a very serious alleged attack on money meant for vulnerable people.
“We make no apology for using our channels to both deter fraudsters and reassure the public that we are using every tool in our armoury to protect taxpayers’ money.
“As is usual, the minister’s portfolio also covers other areas, one of which is fraud against the welfare system.
“This cost the taxpayer £8.6 billion last year and it is right that we do all we can to reduce that and ensure money goes to those who need it.
“This government is committed to supporting disabled people and those with health conditions live independent lives with the full support of the welfare payments available.”
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