The full horror of the Department for Work & Pensions’ Valentine message

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Ah, nothing says love like perpetuating the damaging societal myth of benefit scroungers via a cutesy gif.

Those Casanovas over at the Department of Work & Pensions have decided to get all hot and heavy on the subject of welfare fraud in celebration of Valentine’s Day this year.

“Claiming to be living alone is one of the most common types of benefit fraud – don’t ruin #ValentinesDay by failing to declare your true circumstances,” it says in a saucily authoritarian post on Twitter.

And to add the honey to the vinegar, a lovely pink graphic:

“Declaring your true love tomorrow?” it asks, floating over a cartoon hot-air balloon in the shape of a heart. “Don’t forget to declare your true living arrangements too. Don’t get separated from your Valentine. Tell us of a change now.”

The DWP logo pops up.

And, the absolute tease, it adds a link to an Express article about benefit “swindlers”.

Ooh, DWP, you are absolute filth.

Anyway, once the charm wears off, here’s the context of this claim:

  • The government estimates 1.1 per cent of benefits paid out are fraudulently claimed (in 2015-16). But even this minute proportion comes under the category of “overpayment” (accounting for 1.9 per cent of benefit expenditure in 2015-16), which also includes honest mistakes on both sides. So only a tiny minority of people are fraudulently claiming.
  • There is also underpayment in the system, which is almost the same proportion. The amount underpaid to benefit claimants in the same period as above was 1 per cent of total expenditure.
  • The government says undeclared cohabiting is a common type of benefit fraud. But this is thought to be because of fast-changing living circumstances and the complicated nature of cohabitation as a relationship – “living together” can mean many different relationships, and the government asks you to declare the income of your married partner, your civil partner, or if you are “living together as a married couple” if you’re claiming benefits or tax credits, which is a confusing description.
  • Cohabiting claims have most infamously been messed up on the government’s side – the private company Concentrix that managed tax credit claims for HMRC withdrew money from people who they accused of cohabiting with RS McColl (a Scottish cornershop chain that would appear on some people’s statements because you can collect benefits there), the 19th century philanthropist Joseph Rowntree (a claimant lived in a house provided by the Foundation under his name), and their own children.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.