More Mail manipulation over benefit fraud

Another day, another outraged Daily Mail 'benefit scroungers' story - one which, once again, is sensationalist, tells only half the story and features the obligatory quote from Tory work and pensions minister "Calamity" Chris Grayling.

Another day, another outraged Daily Mail ‘benefit scroungers’ story – one which, once again, is sensationalist, tells only half the story and features the obligatory quote from Tory work and pensions minister “Calamity” Chris Grayling. The headline screamed “More than £1BILLION lost to disability benefit fraud and error – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg” – that’s £1 billion over six years, the vast majority of it down to error, not fraud; not that you’d know it from the headline.

Independent fact-checking website FullFact.org today took the Mail to task and unearthed the real figures. Patrick Casey reports:

When we contacted the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to find the relevant figures, we were directed to statistics, given nearly a month ago, in a written parliamentary answer to Labour MP, Phil Wilson. Given that concerns have previously been raised about the lumping of fraud and error together in news reports, it is worth checking how the two add up for the DLA.

Looking at the figures for the last year, which can also be found in Table 2.1 of the DWP statistics on benefit fraud and error (published 27 May), it can be seen that while £220 million was lost in fraud and error, only £60 million of this was actually fraud…

Underpayments through error for 2008/9 are estimated at £290 million – £70 million more than the amount overpaid through error and fraud. Looking back at previous years, a trend emerges, as the table below shows:

Year Overpayments   Underpayments   Net
2006/7 £170 million £230 million + £60 million
2007/8 £190 million £250 million + £60 million
2008/9 £200 million £260 million + £60 million
2009/10 £220 million £290 million + £70 million

Such figures do not in any way make fraudulent claims any more permissible, they simply highlight a bigger picture, ignored by the report in the Daily Mail. The estimated amount lost to fraud for 2009/10 was £60 million, less than a quarter of the amount not paid to people through errors leading to underpayments.

Looking at the balance of payments caused by error, it can be seen that errors caused £160 million in overpayments, but amounted to £290 million in underpayments.

FullFact conclude that:

While there is nothing inaccurate about the statistics quoted in the Daily Mail report, the article completely ignores the other statistics that should go hand in hand with any record of overpayments. The large sums for both overpayments and underpayments, suggest room for improvement in efficiency when the Work and Pensions Secretary unveils his reforms to the system in the coming months.

But these figures show that if Iain Duncan Smith managed to create a system with all DLA claimants receiving the correct amount, the Government could actually stand to lose several million. Perhaps this is what the headline meant when it announced the figures represented, “the tip of the iceberg.”

Last week, Left Foot Forward exposed the secret briefings on workless households from the DWP, which led to several stories in the right-wing press about 250,000 households in the UK ‘where no one has ever had a job’, again accompanied by quotes from Mr Grayling; and the week before City AM reported that the DWP had claimed that the proportion of households in London where no-one has ever had a job was 23 per cent – the true figure is seven per cent.

For a full list of Grayling’s calamities this year see here.

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