British PM defends 'bounty hunter' plans for welfare cheats

10th August 2010, Comments 0 comments

Prime Minister David Cameron played down concerns on Tuesday about the British government's plans to use private firms to track down fraudulent welfare claims.

British newspapers dubbed the use of credit rating companies paid a bonus for each welfare 'cheat' they find as "bounty hunters", but Cameron argued the firms would help cut fraud of 1.5 billion pounds (1.8 billion euros, 2.4 billion dollars) a year.

"Private companies use all sorts of different means to make sure they are not defrauded, why should the state be any different?" Cameron said.

Cameron said slashing the annual cost of fraud and error in the welfare state would be at the forefront of a promised barrage of cuts in public spending as the new coalition government seeks to reduce a record deficit of 154.7 billion pounds.

"There are some people who are claiming welfare who are not entitled to it and that is just wrong and that should stop," Cameron told an audience in Manchester, northwest England.

Civil liberty groups have raised concerns about the role of the private investigators, who check spending on items such as credit cards and bills.

But Cameron said: "I do not think people should be concerned.

"If you are entitled to welfare and can claim it then you should claim it but if you are not entitled to it you should not get and should not claim it."

There was another hint on Tuesday of the extent of the public spending cuts to come when a letter leaked to a trade union said the justice ministry for England and Wales is to slash its nine billion pound budget by more than 20 percent.

Unions said the move could lead to 15,000 of the ministry's 80,000 staff losing their jobs.

The coalition government of Cameron's Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats is to announce where it intends to make cuts elsewhere in government in October.

© 2010 AFP

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