Dear Tony

First draft of a letter to the PM and various other MPs.

No doubt you have seen the adverts telling the unemployed not to commit fraud by not declaring any work they do whilst signing on. Have you considered that one of the main reasons for this fraud is that the system is such that it actually punishes people for being honest?

The greatest con with regard to working part time whilst receiving benefits is the one commited by the benefits system. When I had part time work I had to fill out a form and present payslips When these had been examined I was graciously allowed to keep a whole five pounds of the money I had worked for, whilst the balance of my earnings were deducted from my Jobseeker’s Allowance. I could work ten hours and be no better off than if I’d worked two. In fact, with the cost of getting to work, I was worse off than if I’d stayed at home and done nothing.

The arbitrary figure of five pounds which I was allowed to keep hasn’t changed in over a decade. In a fair system this amount would at least have risen with inflation. If the unemployed are truly to be encouraged to take part time work- for the benefit of their pride, the economy or whatever higher purpose you wish to declare- then they should be allowed to be better off for it. I would suggest they be allowed to keep fifty percent of their income- or the first ten pounds, whichever is higher- and then have the balance deducted from their JSA. Obviously there should be an upper limit to this, and a maximum number of hours worked before they must sign off.

Not only is the system flawed when it does work, it is prone to complete failure. A payslip is required for each and every time wages are received. If the JobCentre doesn’t see a payslip it freezes payments. If JSA payments are frozen, Housing Benefit and other payments are frozen. The hapless part time worker is forced to live on the pay the JobCentre doesn’t believe they are getting, pay that, by the nature of the claimant’s circumstances, is less than the amount the system judges they require to live.

A person in a low paying job is less likely to receive regular payslips. However the system treats them as guilty of fraud until they can present a piece of paper that proves their innocence. How about assuming they’re innocent from the start and going straight to the employer for the proof? The benefits system is supposed to be about helping people in their moment of greatest need, so why abandon them when they start trying to help themselves?

Obviously any reform that would reward the unemployed for doing what is expected of them won’t go down well with a certain class of voter in the run up to a General Election. Frankly if you treat claimants like scum and punish them for doing what you demand of them then you are actually going to encourage benefit fraud rather than reduce it.

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