Today’s Daily Mail attempt to smear sickness benefit claimants as criminals shows just how desperate ministers are becoming as welfare reform turns into on ongoing farce.
According to the Mail, 23% of all sickness benefit claimants have a criminal record of some form, including a police caution. According to the Chris Grayling comedy show this is ‘truly alarming’. What’s alarming in fact is how law abiding sickness benefit claimants appear to be.
According to this Chartered Institute of Professional Development report (PDF) aimed at encouraging employers to hire people with criminals records, as many as 25% of the general population has a criminal record. As those in receipt of sickness benefit are likely to be poorer than the general population, it might have been reasonable to assume a higher percentage of claimants may have been convicted of a crime.
Many people on sickness benefits have a mental health condition. It is a sad truth that people with mental health conditions are over -represented in the criminal justice system. An increasingly few people on sickness benefits may also have a history of illegal substance misuse, once again suggesting that these would skew the figures above the general population’s level of criminality.
So in fact we should all give a big cheer to sickness benefit claimants, who despite ill health and poverty seem to be less inclined to criminality than the population as a whole.
Of course the Daily Mail don’t see it this way. If you can commit crimes you can work seems to be the spin. Researcher Patricia Morgan – who presumably gets a quote because she had something to do with the research – makes the astonishing claim that:
“There are people who claim incapacity benefit because they are alcoholics or use drugs. They shouldn’t be allowed to, but they do.
“They do not need to work and often they steal to maintain their drinking or addiction. Generally people who work do not commit crime.”
At a time when bankers, coppers, MPs and newspaper editors have all faced unprecedented investigation into their own illegal activities, this statement may even be a bit much for Daily Mail readers to take. Perhaps this is why comments don’t seem to be being accepted on the piece.
The three most senior tories, David Cameron, George Osborne, Boris Johnson, have all been involved in illegal drugs, along with Louise Mensch, Nick Clegg and a host of other government figures. The only reason they don’t have criminal records in because they didn’t get caught. Cameron has claimed his history of Class A drug use is part of his ‘personal life’ and refuses to speak about it.
Yet the DWP is quite happy to delve into the personal details of sickness benefit claimants and splash them across the front pages in little more than a crude publicity stunt.
This non-story reveals two things. It’s ‘silly season’ meaning that MPs have swanned off on holiday and there’s not much for hacks to write about. Secondly it shows that, slowly but surely, public opinion is changing towards claimants as Government smears become ever more ludicrous.
People are waking up to the reality of losing a welfare state that benefits everybody but the rich. And this Government, steeped as they are in contempt for the poor and benefit bashing, will not know how to cope with that.