It’s hardly surprising that Cameron and his party should hate women so much. After all other than the odd thrashing by nanny, they probably never saw a real one until they left the torrid dormitories of Eton.
Cameron’s recent pathetic attempt to appeal to women, offering them the opportunity to become skivvies for the rich, recently fell as flat as his regular sexist behaviour in the House of Commons. So in time-honoured tradition they are turning their attention to the usual Tory scapegoat, single mums.
The DWP has announced tough new measures aimed at feckless single parents who are caught living with a partner and not informing the benefits office. Lord Fraud has declared:
“Pretending you are a single parent to get benefits when you are actually living with a partner is stealing money from the people who genuinely need help.”
Which is a rather strange way of looking at it, when in fact if they are stealing from the government. By the same logic you could argue they were stealing from the Queen, which perhaps wouldn’t have had the same impact that Freud was hoping for.
Under the ‘tough’ new measures anyone convicted of benefit fraud three times in a row will be banned from claiming benefits for three years, a neat little way to ensure that their children should also suffer as much as possible. The problem is, as it was revealed last time this was announced, no-one has ever been convicted of benefit fraud three times in a row. Next week Lord Freud will be announcing legislation aimed at preventing armadillos being used as train drivers.
This isn’t what the law is supposed to be used for, inventing non-existent circumstances to further the myth that all claimants are on the fiddle. This is PR, not legislation. The law is being used to try and entrench the lie that fraud is endemic in the benefits system, when in fact fraud levels are tiny compared to comparable sectors, such as tax evasion.
So whilst this change won’t affect anyone at all, what is concerning is that on conviction for a first offence of benefit fraud, single parents could face having benefits stopped for 13 weeks. That financial penalties like this should be tossed so casually on the very poorest families, where it will be the children who ultimately suffer for their parent’s crime, is a fucking disgrace.
It is true that the public are not loving people who falsely claim benefits at the moment, and this, on the face of it, is fair enough. The problem is that the benefits system is so complex and rigid that it can be virtually impossible to avoid some degree of breach of the rules at times. If you are on Jobseekers Allowance and take twenty quid cash for helping a mate move you are a criminal. If you are sick, but perhaps recover enough to not quite be eligible for benefits, and don’t tell them quickly enough, you could face prosecution. If you inherit a sum of money, and neglect to inform the DWP so they can knock the exact same sum of money from your benefits, you may very likely face jail.
For single parents however the situation is even more difficult for two reasons. The first is that if you begin a co-habiting relationship then your partner is immediately expected to take full financial responsibility for you and your children or you (not your partner) will be prosecuted. This places a heavy burden on a blossoming relationship, especially as if the partnership doesn’t work out you will be at the mercy of the DWP as to whether they accept the relationship has ended and restore your benefits.
The second problem is that there are no clear guidelines as to what living with a partner actually means. A common urban myth that if your partners stays over three nights a week then you are deemed to be living with them is simply not true. In fact all measure of factors are considered, or not considered, including whether you have sex with them (although they are not supposed to ask you this directly), and whether you are viewed by others as being in a co-habiting relationship. The full guidance for DWP decision makers on co-habiting couple can be downloaded at (PDF): http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/dmgch11.pdf
Ultimately it may not be clear whether a parent has broken the law until they face a court, and of course this uncertainty infects the whole system. Therefore it is not uncommon for claimants to be told by misinformed DWP officials that even spending one night with a partner could leave them liable to prosecution. The confusion, and chilling effect this can have on the ability of single parents to form relationships, can be summed up by this thread on the netmums forum where one poster asks:
“I don’t get the rules to be honest, If I go on a date with someone would I have to inform anyone, Also if you have been going out for 2 weeks or something are they expected to move in and financially contribute? Wouldn’t that just be rushing things so to speak?”
The problem is made worse by the Benefit Fraud Hotline, which means any snivelling grass can ring the DWP and report you because they don’t like you and saw you holding someone’s hand or snogging at the bus stop. Whilst prosecution based on flimsy evidence like this is unlikely, even an investigation can lead to the suspension of benefit payments, as well as the stress of facing a huge fine, criminal record, all benefits stopped for thirteen weeks and even imprisonment. All just for having a shag.
Wanker Freud informs us not to worry, because Universal Credit will ‘simplify and automate the benefits system to make it less open to abuse.’ So perhaps a computer will decide whether people are in a relationship or not in future, another magical feature of the new IT system which is set to be the most complex and large scale project ever attempted anywhere ever.
In fact Universal Credit, when it is rolled out in 2057, will do nothing to stop the problems outlined above. All it will actually do is remove humans from the equation. Which is okay because computers can#amp/’t make mistakes.
There is obviously no excuse for benefit fraud (well, apart from poverty, the challenges of raising children alone, lack of clarity in the rules and the ever moving goal posts). People with multiple claims or dodgy landlords claiming for non-existent tenants should be condemned and treated the way we treat any else who rips off the tax payer, such as giving them a knighthood and then taking it away a year later.
But these rules are not aimed at organised fraud. They are aimed at people just getting by, who may have made a mistake, or not declared a few quid here and there. Compared to the huge sums lost due to tax evasion this is a trivial sum of money, that will place added stress on already over-burdened single parents should they commit the crime of falling in love.
Whilst MPs who did far worse were simply allowed to repay dodgy expense claims, single parents and claimants face abject poverty and even jail for far lesser offences. However the stories of people going hungry, families separated and children being taken into care will not feature in the press who instead prefer to salivate because a one legged man has been caught playing golf or a wheelchair user went on holiday.