HC Deb 05 July 2004 vol 423 cc535-6
3. Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con)

What his most recent assessment is of the level of benefit fraud. [181889]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Chris Pond)

We are winning the war against benefit fraud. Since 1997, we have reduced fraud in the two main working age benefits by 38 per cent., which is equivalent to £280 million. We are now in the middle of our latest "Targeting Fraud" advertising campaign, and we have just launched a new series of hard-hitting radio adverts. I am confident that that will help us to meet our challenging target of a reduction in fraud and error of 50 per cent. by 2006.

Mr. Luff

I am glad that the Government think that they are winning their war on benefit fraud—we all want them to do so—but at what cost is that war being won? May I read to the Secretary of State the comments of my constituent, Max Harper, about whom I wrote to the Minister for disabled people on 16 June? He says: I live in fear now that if I lift a camera I will be reported to the DWP and will lose benefit or worse. He is a severely depressive individual whose only pleasure is photography. The combination of the abolition of the therapeutic work rule and the introduction of the permitted work rule and notional earnings rule has destroyed his life. Will the Government reconsider the way in which the rules work, and make sure that they work in favour of the mentally ill, whom the Government say they want to get back into work?

Mr. Pond

We are reviewing those rules. The hon. Gentleman will know that we do not seek to target individuals in those circumstances through our antifraud campaigns and new investigative measures. I am sure that he would agree, as do nine out of 10 of the British public, that tackling benefit fraud—I am talking about fraud is extremely important. That is why so many of them are joining us in fighting fraud, and using the fraud hotline—0845 854440. I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman has any information about true fraudsters, he will give us a call.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab)

Does my hon. Friend agree that a universal ID card could assist in the battle against benefit fraud? It might also help those with proper and legitimate claims to access services and benefits.

Mr. Pond

Yes, the Department supports the identity card proposals. We believe that it would help not only to root out identity fraud, for which we already have successful measures in place, but to make sure that in the longer term people who are entitled to benefits receive them. It might also improve take-up.