Britain has become the welfare state for the world

Department for Work and Pensions sign
Department for Work and Pensions sign

New properties were being built. Designer clothes were suddenly evident everywhere. And the whole place was flush with cash. When Inspector Vassil Panayotov, a determined copper who could have stepped straight out of an old-fashioned detective mystery, noticed how much money was swilling around the Bulgarian village of Sliven, in the foothills of the Balkan mountains, he might have feared it had been turned into a route for shipping for cocaine into Europe, women into the sex trade, or arms in Russia.

Instead, it was a far simpler, and more lucrative racket. A group of villages were swindling the British welfare system, stealing tens of millions of pounds in fraudulent benefit claims. And yet, in reality, while Panayotov may have been surprised by the scheme, no one in the UK should be. Our benefits system is being opened up to the whole world – and our idle civil servants are too weak to do anything about it.

The Sliven case has exposed just how easy it is to take money from the British state. After Panayotov tipped off the British authorities, the ring has been brought to justice. It turned out that £50 million in benefits had been paid out, including to people who had never set foot in Britain, and the real total may have run into the hundreds of millions.

Yet this is only the tip of the iceberg. As the UK’s benefits bill rises and rises, with working age benefits soaring from less than £40 billion annually in the 1980s to more than £100 billion now, it has become painfully clear that some claims are fraudulent. Indeed, as far back as 2007 the BBC was reporting that many Polish workers in Britain were claiming child benefit in both countries. Did anyone take action in response?

Britain has become so generous, and our borders so lightly policed, that we may now be paying out tens of billions a year to people who have no connection with the country at all. There are so many different ways of claiming money from the state, it is probably hard for even the most diligent Bulgarian gangster to keep track of them all. There are child benefits, tax credits, housing benefits, disability benefits, employment support, income support that can all apparently be claimed with flimsy evidence to show that someone is actually living in the country. Whatever happened to the principle of those who are able paying into the system, with state support provided to the most vulnerable?

Even worse, we have largely uncontrolled immigration, with many new arrivals put up in state housing despite a chronic shortage. Meanwhile, anyone who arrives as an unskilled student or care worker can win the right to remain, along with all the welfare entitlements, meaning they may be a drain on the economy for years to come.

There are two big problems. The system is too generous and checks are inadequate, leaving it wide open to fraud. And the civil servants who are meant to monitor claims are all working from home, or attending compulsory “unconscious bias” courses, and are too terrified of accusations of xenophobia to start checking whether all the claims from Bulgarian sounding names might mean there is something fishy going on.

So benefits are just handed out, with the bill passed on to the taxpayer. Instead of providing support during times of hardship for our fellow citizens, a concept that everyone would agree with, the system has been turned into a free money machine for anyone in the world. We can’t expect there to be many Inspector Panayotov’s out there to control it for us, but until we address this madness, we will never get the tax burden down, or get public services up and running to a decent standard.