Stigma and fraud
Participants were not asked directly about the role of stigma in the focus groups sessions. However, throughout the focus groups, the topic of stigma continually came up as a key theme of discussion.
Participants generally thought that previous approaches towards error and fraud had been aggressive. They described how the system had given them a feeling of being guilty until proven innocent. Many participants felt that the overall approach to fraud had created negative attitudes with communities. Several said that the information they received made them feel suspected. Others said that it had contributed to a breakdown in trust between them and authorities. A few said that the atmosphere had become more difficult among neighbours in their community.
"There is a sense of them and us; DWP against the claimant sometimes."
"There are costs for the kind of stigma we are talking about. It's the systems that make us feel like we do."
Myths about benefit fraud
Some noted that the number of cases of convicted fraud was actually very low. They said that only a very small minority of claimants actually wanted to trick the system. These participants felt that the general approach to error and fraud over previous years had created myths about how common benefit fraud actually was.
"We need to think about the words we use. Most people talk about scroungers, not the people who really deserve it. Everyone needs to know the percentages about those who commit fraud."
"Be honest when it comes to the problem. Don't hide. Make it clear that yes there are people not claiming what they are entitled. But this is a small number."
Several felt that it was unfortunate that a majority of honest claimants felt stigmatised because of an approach that was aimed at a small minority. They believed that the role of stigma and hostility towards fraud had helped to create negative views of all benefits claimants. Several also felt heavy-handed approaches to fraud reduced the likelihood of people applying for what they were eligible for.
A few participants described how it was difficult to strike a balance between discouraging fraud and encouraging people to apply for benefits they are entitled to.
"That's why it's difficult to have a one size fits all approach. You need warnings about the consequences of committing fraud. You also need to balance that with having a message that will also encourage people to apply."
There is a problem
Thanks for your feedback