Labour has repeatedly called for more action as fraud grows online and offline. It affects people here in Feltham and Heston and across the country.Crime has become more complex – whether that be dealing with rising fraud or new online evidence in an abuse case. Pensioners are worried not just about antisocial behaviour on the streets, but about being targeted with scams and online fraud. Highly adaptable organised criminal gangs are increasingly using the online space to facilitate their crimes.
But policing technology and practice hasn’t kept up. There are huge problems with digital forensics and officers are spending hours longer on bureaucracy. The police do not have the digital capabilities to tackle online crime: police data analysts have been cut and the Police National Computer is nearly 50 years old.
And fraud isn’t just a crime with huge social impact – it has a huge economic impact too. The 2019 Financial Cost of Fraud report estimates the cost of fraud to the UK is between £130 billion and £190 billion a year.
In response to ongoing calls from across Parliament, the government has finally released its long-awaited fraud strategy. This plan comes a year and a half since it was first promised, and seven months after the Labour Party set out our own plan to tackle fraud.
Sadly, this fraud strategy is itself a bit of a fraud. The new national fraud squad is patched together with £100 million already announced last year and 400 officers, up to 300 of whom are already in post. With no new money and precious few new staff, it’s difficult to see how it will make a dent in the £6.8 billion a year lost to consumer fraud, let alone the £21 billion a year lost in public sector fraud.
But it’s no surprise, coming from this government: billions were stolen by fraudsters during the pandemic and then written off by Rishi Sunak when he was chancellor. His own anti-fraud minister Lord Agnew resigned in anger, saying that the Treasury had ‘no knowledge or little interest in the consequences of fraud to our economy or our society’. That is the reality of this prime minister’s concern about fraud – not a half-baked new strategy that is far too little, and far too late.
In 2021, the Royal United Services Institute concluded that there was a ‘responsibility vacuum’ within government on the issue, with ‘fraud continuing to be everybody’s problem but nobody’s priority’. This can’t go on.
I know how concerned local residents, especially those with elderly relatives, are about fraud. That’s why it’s time for real change.
Labour would deliver root and branch reform of how we tackle fraud as a country with a serious, comprehensive, long-term strategy covering all types of fraud and protecting all those who suffer its consequences – whether that is law-abiding businesses, ordinary working people and pensioners, or our frontline public services.