1st Edition

Policing Welfare Fraud The Government of Welfare Fraud and Non-Compliance

By Scarlet Wilcock Copyright 2024
    202 Pages 5 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Policing Welfare Fraud charts and interrogates the suite of measures ostensibly designed to combat welfare fraud and non-compliance. In Australia, which serves as the empirical focus of this book, these strategies include stringent ID checks, pre-emptive data surveillance technologies including the infamous and illegal ‘robodebt’ programme, a dedicated fraud hotline and an ‘intelligence-led’ fraud investigation framework. Drawing on original documentary and interview data, including interviews with fraud investigators, this book unpacks the logics that underpin these anti-fraud initiatives with a focus on how these initiatives are imbued with logics and practices more readily associated with the criminal justice system.

    The central argument of the book is that the emergence of contemporary welfare compliance regimes represents a form of ‘governing through fraud’ in which the threat of welfare fraud has effectively necessitated a regime of criminalisation within the welfare state. This has been enabled by a broader process of neoliberal welfare reform, which has cast suspicion over all welfare use. The overall effect of this regime is to restrict access to social security, punish welfare recipients and stigmatise welfare use. Policing Welfare Fraud also highlights points of contradiction and multiplicity in the enactment of specific welfare compliance initiatives, including attempts by welfare officials to moderate or reformulate these strategies ‘on the ground’. These findings demonstrate that the criminalisation of welfare is neither uniform nor inexorable, and that more progressive welfare reform is possible.

    An accessible and compelling read, this book will appeal to students and scholars of criminology, sociology, politics and those interested in the policing of welfare recipients.

    List of Figures

    List of Tables



    List of Abbreviations


    1 Introduction

    2 A History of Welfare Fraud Policing

    3 Governing Welfare Fraud and Non-compliance in Neoliberal Times

    4 Preventing or Pre-empting Welfare Compliance? Policing the Borders of the Welfare State

    5 Managing ‘Risky’ Recipients: Data Mining Risk Profiling and Tiered Compliance Reviews

    6 Making Welfare Fraud ‘Everybody’s Business’: Responsibilising Welfare Compliance

    7 Deterrence, Disruption, Deservingness: Prosecuting Welfare Fraud in Australia

    8 Conclusion



    Scarlet Wilcock is Lecturer at Sydney Law School, University of Sydney, Australia, and an Associate Investigator at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society.

    'In the aftermath of Australia’s internationally infamous Robodebt scandal, Policing Welfare Fraud is a must read for understanding the decades’ long blending of the welfare and penal states in Australia. Through incisive empirical analysis, Wilcock demonstrates how welfare is governed through fraud, even though most debts are not fraudulent. She contests grand narratives of the criminalisation of poverty, showing that welfare compliance regimes are more messy, contradictory and complicated, thus highlighting how contemporary welfare can be otherwise enacted.'

    Professor Paul Henman, Professor for Digital Sociology & Social Policy, University of Queensland

    'An incisive and sophisticated examination of how Australia’s welfare compliance regime emerged from a program of neo-liberal welfare 'reform' which seeks to stigmatise 'welfare dependency', 'govern through fraud', assemble punitive compliance regimes and criminalise welfare recipients. Compelling reading.'

    Emeritus Professor David Brown, Faculty of Law and Justice, University of New South Wales