OVER the last couple of weeks I have become aware of a frightening development. Completely unexpectedly, in late November, the UK Department for Work and Pensions included a draconian amendment in UK wide legislation on data protection. You might wonder what the connection between data protection and the DWP might be. The answer, it turns out, is quite a lot.

What the DWP did, when presenting their new legislation to Parliament, was to give themselves the right to demand that every bank in the UK provide them with detailed information on the bank accounts of every single person who is paid any type of benefit by the DWP. What is more, they did so knowing that the Westminster parliamentary timetable allowed almost no time at all for discussion of this new law.

This move by the DWP is completely unprecedented. The powers they are giving themselves are vastly excess of any power that HM Revenue and Customs has to secure information from the worst tax abusers in the UK.

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What looks likely is that from 2025 onwards, the DWP will now ask banks to supply them with the details of all transactions on every benefit claimant’s bank account, every month. In other words, if you get any sort of benefit then not only will you get a bank statement from your bank from then on, but so too might the DWP.

This is, in my opinion, a wholly unreasonable encroachment of the power of the Westminster state into the lives of people in a way that is utterly unacceptable.

Saying that, I am not naïve. I am, of course aware that some people claim benefits fraudulently. The DWP estimates that fraud costs it £6.4 billion a year. On the other hand, it also underpays benefits by £3.3bn a year in error, whilst overpaying £2.1bn.

In other words, fraud is just £1.3bn at most more than the errors made by the DWP itself each year. Targeting it makes little overall sense in that case. Getting the DWP’s own house in order would seem to be much more important, and an easier thing to do.

That is most especially true when recent estimates suggest that up to £13bn of DWP benefits owing a year are not being claimed by those to whom they are due. In that case, in net terms the DWP is better off as a result of overall errors in benefit claims each year to the tune of about £11.7bn.

Contrast that with HM Revenue and Customs, who admit that they lose at least £35.8bn of tax each year, which is a figure that I think vastly understates the true loss. However, no equivalent measures to secure data to check tax fraud are being taken. I have often proposed that they should be, especially in the case of small limited companies, where risks seems particularly high, but no action has ever been taken. Instead, it is benefit claimants who are to be penalised.

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And when I say benefit claimants, I want to make clear that it includes large numbers of people receiving disability-related benefits, which are wholly unrelated to income., Despite that, the DWP still wants the power to spy on these claimant’s bank accounts.

I believe in the state. I think that without what I once described as a "courageous state" then the people of a country have no chance of prosperity, because a government committed to the interest to the people that it serves helps them to achieve their best potential.

What, however, we are seeing in this proposal is the exact opposite of the courageous state. This is the "cowardly state" at work.  A government made up people who hate the state, hate government spending, and who seem to hate everyone who claims a benefit or any sort, even if they have worked a lifetime to earn the right to claim it, is choosing to pick on people who are usually the lowest paid and weakest in our society.

Their goal is to make them fearful of claiming benefits to which they are entitled for fear of being accused of making a simple mistake. This is utterly shameful. The UK Government should, instead, be focusing on the activities of large companies, small corporate tax fraudsters and the wealthy who use tax havens, but we all know that they would never do that, because they are their friends. They want to target those in need instead. There is a word for that. It is bullying.

The National: The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Mel StrideThe Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Mel Stride

To their credit, the SNP were the only party who organised themselves to oppose this measure in the Commons.

Labour had just seven MPs who opposed the move, which is pathetic.

Lessons need to be learned. This will be no basis for managing anti-fraud measures in the independent Scotland that most readers of The National want.

In the meantime, make sure you really can explain every single penny in your bank account if you claim any form of benefit because the DWP will be watching you very closely, very soon. And that includes me, because I am an old age pensioner from next March. This was not the way I intended to celebrate that fact.