Despite resolutely failing to address the pressing issue that neoliberalism and the 'free market' have failed to deliver the economic prosperity that the free market 'gurus' have long claimed it would deliver, the media feel no such tardiness about going after the victims of neoliberalism , namely beneficiaries.

Under the headline ' Benefit cheats get away with $16 million', the New Zealand Herald yesterday reported that fraud detected by the Ministry of Social Development has almost doubled from $8.1 million five years ago.

This story gives the false impression that thousands of beneficiaries are living the high life on a level of benefit they are not entitled to.

It is more fiction than fact, a media contribution to the Government's heightened harassment of people pushed to the edge by policies that favour the few at the expense of the many.

in 2009 the number of alleged benefit frauds actually went down to just under 15,000.

These were cases that were just investigated for possible fraud. In the majority of cases Work and Income simply went on fishing expeditions in the hope of finding something,

Of the approximately 15,0000 case investigated in 2009, only 735 ended up in court. Many of these cases ended up collapsing because no reliable evidence was provided to back up the Ministry of Social Development's allegations.

A similar number again ended up in court last year, despite the Ministry has boosted its number of fraud investigators from 79 to 95. The ministry checked 29 million records, up from 12 million two years ago.

What this reveals, is that there is actually very little significant fraud. It's all just a media beat-up. While the media loves highlighting stories about the beneficiary cheat with a house in Remuera and four cars sitting in the driveway, these kind of cases are the exception rather than the rule.

To put the level of 'benefit fraud' into perspective we should remember that the Ministry of Social Development had a budget of some $14 billion in 2010.

It's also worth noting that the crooks and charlatans of the finance sector lost over $4 billion of other people's money when the sector collapsed. Other than the most high profile figures, most of those snake oil merchants have escaped the kind of media bashing that beneficiaries regularly receive.

Some of the $16 million defrauded was actually pocketed by Work and Income staff themselves.

In the past five years 21 staff have been dismissed for fraud and nineteen of them were prosecuted.

What is so hypocritical about the media's beneficiary witchhunt is that over 260,000 people remain jobless - not the mention the growing underemployed - yet the corporate media continue to defend the neoliberal polices that have provided nothing but growing social inequality and poverty.


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