Exhibit A: From the Daily Mail, November 8th 2008. Man caught in £30,000 benefit fraud:
After the case, employment and welfare reform minister Tony McNulty said: "Lying to the DWP to get money you aren’t entitled to is a crime. Expecting to get away with it is criminally stupid. This man thought he could live a life of Riley at the taxpayers’ expense. He was wrong. Our investigators caught up with him and now he’ll face the penalty for his crimes."
Exhibit B: On December 4th 2008 the BBC reveals how councils are using "voice recognition lie detectors" to crack down on benefit fraud:
DWP Minister of State Tony McNulty said: "We’re doing more than ever before to tackle benefit fraud, and the use of more sophisticated technology, such as voice recognition, just goes to show how determined we are to catch these criminals…
The use of voice recognition is not meant to intimidate people. Its sole purpose is to catch people stealing money that could otherwise be used for schools and hospitals. So far, since April, we’ve sanctioned more than 2,000 people in Wales for benefit fraud. The message is clear – we’re closing in on benefit cheats, and we will continue to do so."
Exhibit C: 14th January 2009, The Derby Evening Telegraph reported on the case of a woman convicted of a £38,000 benefit fraud:
Tony McNulty, DWP Anti-Fraud Minister, said: "DWP, working in partnership with local authorities, is taking action against more benefit thieves than ever before. n 2006-07, in partnership with local authorities we imposed over 51,000 prosecutions and sanctions, more than ever before and a fourfold increase since 1998. Those committing benefit theft don’t just face the possibility of a criminal record and a jail sentence. Their crime can impact on future employment, insurance and credit applications too. It really isn’t worth the risk."
Exhibit D: March 2009, Tony McNulty, Anti-Fraud Minister at the Department of Work and Pensions, who lives in Hammersmith, West London (three miles from parliament) is revealed to have claimed £60,000 of expenses for a "second home" in his constituency of Harrow. That’s Harrow, a full 11 miles from Westminster and half a dozen miles from his "main" residence. For a second home which is actually inhabited by his parents. Mr McNulty admits that this may seem "a bit odd" but not to worry since "everyone does it". This, he admits, is not much better than the "Nuremberg defense".
"Everyone is at it" is not much of a defence is it even if it is, for once, also true? McNulty’s scam may not, strictly speaking, be illegal but ethically it seems little better than those perpetrated by the fraudsters and benefit "cheats" he so enjoys locking up. Worth remembering next time some pious scold at Westminster tells the rest of us to pack away our cynicism and think better of our elected representatives.
PS: The DWP wants to remind you that "the National Benefit Fraud Hotline number is 0800 854 440. Lines are open between 7am and 11pm seven days a week or you can report a thief online via: www.dwp.gov.uk/benefit-thieves"