What Makes People Commit Benefit Fraud? Introduction Benefit fraud is, according to some members of the government and some media sources, committed by dishonest people and is a blight on our nation which sucks up huge amount of money that could otherwise be used for the improvement of public services. Another perspective might argue that benefit fraud is a symptom and reflection of our unequal society. The first view tends to place the blame on the individual while the latter tends to place the blame on society. The attitude that a textual source adopts towards this questions can provide some insight into the way in which they construct the issue. Social psychology has analysed the way in which we make decisions about why something happens in terms of attributions. Hogg Vaughan (2002) explain that attributions in social psychology describe how people make decisions about the actions of other people specifically what is it that motivates their actions? One of the most well-known of these models of attributions was put forward by Kelley (1967, 1973). Within this model, peoples behaviour is either attributed to external causes or to internal causes on the basis of how their behaviour varies with the following factors: its distinctiveness, its consistency and the consensus. Attribution theory has been further extended by the work of Weiner (1986) which breaks down how attributions are made into three categories. The first is the locus of control this refers to the boundary between internal and external causes. The second is stability this refers to the extent to which the cause is capable of change. The third is the controllability this refers to how much control a person is perceived to have over their future performance. The way in which the examined texts make attributions about peoples behaviour, in this case benefit fraud, should show their attitudes towards those types of people. For this study, four extracts from The Guardian newspaper were used. The Guardian is traditionally a politically left-leaning publication. The hypothesis for this study was that The Guardian newspaper, in its implicit explanations of the reasons people commit benefit fraud, would tend to emphasise those reasons that focussed on the effects that society has on individuals rather than on individual factors such as personal deviance. In terms of attribution theory, then, the attributions made for benefit fraud would tend to be external to people, would tend to be permanent and beyond peoples control. Method Content analysis is a type of qualitative research method that involves counting the instances of words and then making inferences from these figures. Thematic analysis, however, is a related procedure that involves looking at a text in order to discover the themes that emerge from it, but it does not have the same emphasis on word frequencies. From this difference it can be seen that a thematic analysis aims to understand the data rather than know it. The procedure used for this thematic analysis was to read the extracts relating to benefit fraud and to make notes in the margin as themes arose in the coding. The themes that arose from all the extracts were then examined in total and any potential connections between the themes were analysed in terms of social psychological theories. In carrying out this analysis, one of the most important factors was maintaining a state of reflexivity. Marks Yardley (2004) point to two important components of reflexivity in this type of study. The first is a social critique this means examining how the themes relate to power structures in society. The second is the researcher considering their own attitudes towards the subject being investigated. Results From the analyses of four excerpts from The Guardian, the following three themes emerged. Theme 1: The Catch 22 Administrative Complexity The first theme emphasises the idea that there are often high levels of administrative load involved in applying for benefits. Davies (2005) for example emphasised the amount of form-filling involved for people and how complicated the process is: Many (â€¦) fear endless form-filling while moving off benefits, into tax credits and then, heaven forbid, reapplying for benefits if work falls through hoping that between the Inland Revenue, job centre and the housing office, no one misplaces their form. (Davies, 2005) This focus on the complications of the process can also be seen in Tickles (2006) article which focuses on the difficulties of the system. In particular for one 19-year old trying to put himself through the education system in order to gain A-levels so that he can get a degree, the benefits system seems to be working against him. Not only that but the administrative system has him caught in a Catch 22: According to the benefit rules, if you turn 19 and are homeless, the education game changes. You are no longer eligible for income support, which in turn entitles you to housing benefit. This benefit requires claimants to have an income. Instead, you must claim jobseekers allowance (JSA), which means declaring yourself available for work, and eventually attending government-approved New Deal training. This will very likely have nothing to do with your studies, or those you might like to begin. (Tickle, 2006) According to this account, the man in this article has clearly been caught in the administrative complexities of the situation, something for which he cannot be personally blamed. Theme 2: Social Hardship A strong theme throughout these articles emphasises the difficulty of the circumstances of many of the people that may be involved in benefit fraud. The young man described by Tickle (2006) had been forced to move out from the family home because of problems there and had moved into homeless accommodation. These points are further highlighted in the letters page of The Guardian which points to some of the social circumstances of those who might be claiming benefits fraudulently. Serwotka (2005) points out that: We also see from estimates reported to the public accounts committee that while benefit fraud is declining, errors in payments are on the increase. As the union representing the workers who have to implement these tough conditions, PCS does not believe that getting tough is the best way of helping some of the most vulnerable in society to obtain and keep jobs. (Serwotka, 2005) This places benefit questions within a wider context of lowering rates of fraudulent behaviour and the implicit persecution of those who are the most vulnerable. Theme 3: Fraud Despite Labelling A consistent way in which the writers in The Guardian talked about benefit fraud was in reference to the negative effects of labelling. The implication of this was that while reasons for benefit fraud might include social circumstances and administrative complexity, as discussed above, fraud was carried out despite the strong negative connotations attached to it by the government and others. Davies (2005), for example, points out that many people: â€¦feel targeted and blamed for anti-social behaviour, benefit fraud, scrounging on incapacity benefit. They fear being punished for their childrens school attendance, accused of bad parenting and having their children put into care. (Davies, 2005). A culture of fear is emphasised by Beresford (2005) in that vulnerable people are consistently bombarded by messages that fraud should be avoided. Reporting on a Department of Health study it was found that: One of the strongest messages from the study is the real commitment of many people who have been written off as dependent to make a contribution to their community. But this is hindered by official talk of benefit cheats; of getting a million people off incapacity benefit; a preoccupation with paid employment; and an often inflexible and unsupportive labour market. (Beresford, 2005) Implicit within this analysis is the idea that people who do commit benefit fraud must have a good reason for doing so because the social pressure created by the government not to carry out fraud is so great. Discussion The themes found in this textual analysis of why people commit benefit fraud points to the involvement of a number of established social psychological theories. Each of the themes examined clearly shows how social and systemic reasons were seen, by these articles in The Guardian, to be at the root of why people commit benefit fraud. The first theme of administrative complexity tended to attribute the causes for fraudulent benefit claims to administrative dilemmas and catch-22 problems. This clearly places the reasons for behaviour outside a persons locus of control and implicitly places the cause for the behaviour onto the system. As the system is being blamed this will tend to be a relatively stable factor that will continue into the future. Finally, administrative factors are largely beyond the control of the individual as they are decisions made by the state. The second theme of social hardship is not quite as clear-cut as the first but there are similar tendencies in the analysed attributions. Here social hardship is seen to act as an external force but the decision of the man discussed in this case to commit benefit fraud is seen, to some extent, to be internal. The reasons given for this, however, are external in that it is the system, again, and its complexities and apparent loopholes, that has forced him to take this decision. The final theme did not fit easily into the ideas provided by attribution theory, but, is better suited to those of conformity. Asch (1952) posited that people tend to form the norms for their own behaviour by looking at those around them and come to a conclusion about how they should act based on this. What was clear from Aschs (1952) experiments is that people are highly affected by other peoples behaviour. The third theme, therefore, tends to emphasise the stigma attached to benefit fraud. It follows that people who do commit benefit fraud must have very good reasons for doing so as they are fighting against the normalising pressure of what is generally considered right. Taking a step up in level of analysis, the way that The Guardian makes attributions about people committing benefit fraud can be examined in terms of in-group and out-group attributions. Researchers have found that when making in-group attributions, people tend to display a self-serving bias (Hewstone, 1989). It is assumed that The Guardian newspaper, as it has been traditionally considered a politically left-wing newspaper, is likely to view itself as at least sympathetic to those committing benefit fraud. This would be explained in the ideas of intergroup attribution theory as a self-serving in-group bias. In general then, the hypothesis that textual extracts from The Guardian would tend to defend those committing benefit fraud was supported. This was analysed in terms of attributions with the results showing that they tended to be outside a persons locus of control, tended to be ongoing and permanent. Through these attributions the causes, or even blame, for peoples actions tended to be situated externally. From the perspective of power structures, the idea that The Guardian should defend those who are most vulnerable in society was also consistently supported. References Asch, S. (1952) Social psychology. New York: Prentice Hall. Beresford, P. (2005) No-win situation. Guardian [online] 19 October. Available from: http://society.guardian.co.uk/secondopinion/story/0,,1594942,00.html [Accessed 29 March 2006] Davies, M. (2005) Stop blaming the poor. Guardian [online] 4 April. Available from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/letters/story/0,,1451473,00.html [Accessed 29 March 2006] Hewstone, M. (1989) Causal Attribution: From Cognitive Processes to Cognitive Beliefs, Oxford: Blackwell. Hogg, M. A., Vaughan, G. M. (2002) Social Psychology, Third Edition, London: Prentice Hall Kelley, H. H. (1967) Attribution in social psychology. Nebraska Symposium on Motivation, 15, 192-238. Kelley, H. H. (1973) The processes of causal attribution. American Psychologist, 28, 107-128. Marks, D., Yardley, L., (2004) Research methods for clinical and health psychology. Sage, London. Serwotka, M. (2005) Blunketts branding of benefit claimants (Letters to the editor). Guardian [online] 13 October. Available from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/letters/story/0,,1590682,00.html [Accessed 29 March 2006] Tickle, L. (2006) Between a rock and a hard place. Guardian [online] 10 January. Available from: http://education.guardian.co.uk/egweekly/story/0,,1682421,00.html [Accessed 29 March 2006] Weiner, B. (1986) An attributional theory of motivation and emotion. New York: Springer-Verlag.
One may say that Chris McCandless was an arrogant fool considering the decisions he made throughout his short life. Others may say he was an incredible inspiration and should be honored beyond his death for his choices. McCandless may have made some questionable choices within his journey, yet he was nothing less of an inspiration to those who feel that they have not â€˜found themselvesâ€™ and deserves respect for the impact he has made. Although he is respectable, he also had ample flaws that may have led him to his tragic ending. Instead of being seen as narcissistic and arrogant, McCandless could be seen as an idealist. He believed that reality was past the everyday life that he was living, and he could find reality within a transcendent phenomenon. Although he was told multiple times not to go through with the lone journey to Alaska, McCandless stuck to his decision and did not take into account the advice he was given by many. Unlike most, McCandless was not influenced by the people in his life. He strived on his own idea of life rather than what is taught and learned throughout society. The indifference McCandless felt in his everyday life was what led him to pursue his inspirable journey that was scrutinized by Krakauer and others. Even as a youth, McCandless showed signs of being an idealist. Walt McCandless, Chrisâ€™s father, took Chris on a backpacking trip every year. One year Walt took Chris and his youngest son to climb Longs Peak in Colorado. When they reached an elevation of 13,000 feet, Walt decided it was time to turn around. â€œChris wanted to keep going,â€ Walt recalled. â€œHe was only twelve thenâ€¦ If heâ€™d been fourteen or fifteen, he would have simply gone on without me (Krakauer page 109). â€ This ambition Chris displayed to climb the mountain even when he was young showed his different outlook from most younger children to the more challenging aspects of life. This must have been a point of realization for Chris. His journey had been in the making even from such a young age. Gaylord Stuckey claimed â€œIt was something heâ€™d wanted to do since he was little (Krakauer page 159). â€ These idealist-like ambitions had reflected on the choices Chris made as an adult. Chris McCandless had refused to just fit in with those around him. Instead of listening to what others had for an opinion on his choices, he did what he wanted to do. Even when McCandless was offered luxuries such as food or a place to live, he would only stick around for a very short period of time, then be on his way. McCandlessâ€™s father even noticed the strive for difference in his son. â€œHe didnâ€™t think the odds applied to him. We were always trying to pull him back from the edge,â€ said Walt McCandless. The way Chris refused to blend in with society even with the pressure surrounding him to fit in was a respectable quality in his personality. Many of those who connected with Chris on his trip also saw him as a respectable man. Even though he had refused their offerings and left quickly without much communication, they never saw him as arrogant or prude. Even though McCandless had been incredibly respectable, he also had weaknesses, or flaws. One of these flaws was over-confidence. Before his trip to Alaska, Chris donated $25,000 to charity, ditched his vehicle and most of his possessions, and burned the rest of his cash. By doing this, McCandless demonstrated his idealist quality. Instead of thinking of reality, he made impulsive decisions to satisfy his spiritual self. McCandless also did not prepare for his trip as he should have. He went without bringing a map and brought very little amounts of food with him. By refusing to bring a map, he made it a very difficult trip back for himself that may have cost him his life. He had been offered supplies by multiple people he had met on his way, but refused most of them. McCandless relied too greatly on himself and nature for a trip that needed well thought out planning and devising. For enduring what many could not imagine, pursuing his childhood intents, and refusing to fit in with society, Chris McCandless was nothing less than respectable. Even with his flaws that led him to his death, he stayed true to himself and didnâ€™t give up. All in all, Chris McCandless deserves recognition and respect for his enthusiasm and inspirable story.
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