Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Lost-Benefit Analysis

A Government initiative I endorse? Whatever next!

A scheme to catch out benefit cheats by using lie-detection equipment to analyse their voices over the telephone made the papers today. Seven councils have trialled the system and savings are being claimed of hundreds of millions of pounds as a result. The Home Office has decided to roll out the programme around the country. The national saving could theoretically run to billions.

But there are naysayers afoot. The TUC claims that some honest claimants might be scared off making their legitimate claims for fear of being wrongly labeled as a fraud. The proponents of the scheme counter that anyone with nothing to hide has nothing to fear.

To be honest, I'm not completely oblivious to the 'trampling on civil liberties' claim. After all, it wouldn't be much of a step further for your insurance company to insist on a polygraph test when you claim for your lost camera, or your prospective employer to ask you to confirm all the points on your CV. Or even a politician to be asked if they truly believed in their policies! There is something vaguely '1984' about denying people the presumption of innocence.

But wasting taxpayers' money on neer-do-wells who take undeserved handouts without a qualm - that's just not on. So I find myself in favour of the scheme, despite an unease that Winston might glimpse something of the wretched Oceania in its quiet arrival.

I have never been afraid of the police, or the Inland Revenue, or even a parking attendant, because like the majority of people I can feel no guilt if I have committed no offence. So I hold with the view that legitimate claimants will not be deterred from claiming. On the other hand, the mere thought of being caught out might well put a stop to a good many would-be cheaters' attempts to get that to which they have no entitlement. A good publicity campaign, a few test cases with suitably strong penalties, and the word will be out that cheaters will be caught and punished. Might even save a few quid on actually having to buy the machines that way.

It would be great to live in a world where this sort of thing wasn't necessary, but practiality must reign. And in a country where every politician proclaims a desire to help the poorest in society, wouldn't it be good to think that those unspent millions could actually find their way to the truly deserving cases?

Now if we heard a few more plans to weed out the leeches from society then perhaps the Government mightn't be in quite the doldrums that it is.

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