Here’s an interesting one. The government has been running adverts on peak-time British television, reminding benefit thieves that their activities are illegal. So far, so good. It’s generally considered to be a good thing to halt and deter law-breakers. The advert in question also says something along the lines of “it’s not if we catch you: it’s when“, and yes, it’s perhaps nice to think that this could be the case.
A man is featured taking money in payment for some work that he did, whilst he describes how he thought he could “make a little extra cash without declaring it” – whereupon the long arm of the law fell upon him like a tonne of bricks. A similar horde of other benefit-fraud ne’er-do-wells are then shown as the advert concludes, each bearing a sign saying “criminal record” or “fine”.
Let it be known at this point that I in no way condone benefit fraud, or for that matter the benefit-driven society New Labour have created – far from it. I am riled up however by the way in which they are being hunted down.
As soon as earnings are declared to the government, money received from benefits drops proportionately, thereby negating any extra funds that would have been gained by a would-be worker. There is a threshold at which the money earned from working will offset the money received from the government in benefits. I am willing to be proved wrong, but I imagine this threshold to be equivalent to working 15 to 20 hours a week at minimum wage. Whilst this is far from full-time work, it is not insubstantial for someone not used to regular employment.
Why then does the government feel it a good idea to penalise those trying to get into work? How does handing out prison sentences, job-opportunity-wrecking criminal records and crippling fines to these thieves help anyone? Humans are creatures that do not like large-scale changes, and who (by extension) do not like going straight into full-time work. I know this from my own experience. It is much easier to start with a few hours and build up from there – but the long-term incentive of full-time work for those on benefits is offset by the short-term disincentive of essentially working for no pay. I see it as little wonder that people would not want to declare their earnings.
What happens to these people after they’ve been prosecuted by the government? Do they go out and be productive, happy citizens, or do they wind up back on benefits? (As an extension to this, for whom does someone on benefits vote? A government that won’t rescind them.)
People need to be moved off of benefits (where appropriate) and into work – the money of taxpayers can only be leeched so much. Prosecuting people as a way of raising governmental revenue can never be the way forward.