Thursday, 10 September 2009

Getting fraud in perspective

Another 'benefit fraudster' has been jailed in Brighton and Hove - despite the fact that such fraud (mainly a crime of desperation) costs the public purse a tiny fraction of the estimated £100 billion annual price of tax avoidance and evasion (mainly a crime of greed).

According to a Brighton and Hove Council press release issued yesterday, Shaun Waters of Varndean Road, Brighton, has been jailed for 16 weeks for over-claiming £22,625 in housing and Council Tax benefits.

Well I think depriving a man of his liberty - and a family of a father - for what amounts to a fairly petty crime is just plain wrong - especially when the biggest fraudsters are all walking free!

Make no mistake - sending benefit fraudsters to jail is another way in which the poorest in our society are discriminated against. How many greedy MPs ripping us all off with their inflated, and fraudulent, expenses claims have we seen in the dock?

But even if there wasn't an ideological angle to all this I still wouldn't favour sending Mr Waters and his ilk to prison.

Of course we should catch and punish benefit and expenses cheats and tax evaders to make sure everyone pays there fair share towards public services.

But this is completely disproportionate - custody is expensive (upwards of £500 a week - and probably much more), our jails are full and we know sending people to prison for offences like this just doesn't work.

We need to be making better use of non-custodial alternatives, like community payback, both to save the taxpayer cash, act as a better deterrent, and restore the link between the victim (all Brighton and Hove residents) and the offender.

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