Last Tuesday two events occurred within hours of one another that perfectly demonstrate the gulf between rhetoric and reality. In London, the Prime Minister announced that benefits claimants who cannot speak English will be ordered to take language classes or have their handouts stopped for up to three years. A hundred miles away in Birmingham, a 51-year-old woman by the name of Halima Hameed was being ushered into court number 18 at the citys magistrates court. The single mother was accused of working while claiming more than £9,000 in Income Support. Aklis Uddin Halima Hameed 10am: Aklis Uddin (left) fraudulently claimed £5,385 Jobseeker's Allowance. 10:30: Halima Hameed (right) claimed £9,000 Income Support while working For the three magistrates who made up the panel hearing the case, the details were laid out as follows: Hameed has been claiming benefits since 1998, but in 2007 started work as a printing press operator, doing 36 hours a week. However, she did not inform the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) of her new job. Had she done so her benefits would have been stopped. Hameed would later claim in her defence that she did what she did only because of the situation she found herself in namely that her daughter and grandchild had moved back in, making money tight. Such sob stories are familiar fodder to the magistrates. But what they were especially struck by as they browsed a pre-sentence report prepared on the legally-aided Hameed is the fact that she required the proceedings to be relayed to her by a Punjabi-speaking translator who sat by her side. Miss Hameed has been in England since the age of six, Mary Small, chair of the bench, pointed out, so why does she still need an interpreter? She is told (via the interpreter) that while Hameed understands English she lacks confidence to express herself in it. After spending 12 years in our education system? Mrs Small responded incredulously. More... 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Miss Hameed was also ordered to do 200 hours of unpaid work and told to pay costs of £100. So you see, Mr Cameron, it is not simply the case that there are those claiming benefits who cannot speak English; there are those claiming benefits who cannot speak English but are perfectly happy to rip off the system. And, to add further insult to injury, when they are caught they are then able to milk the same system further as they attempt to mitigate their criminal behaviour. As for getting tough, there was precious little sign of that in Birmingham. In the 18 cases I witnessed on that single day it was alleged that a total of £160,000 had been cheated out of the benefits system. But not one of those attending court was jailed. Aqeel Abid Lesley Barrett 11:20: Aqeel Abid (left) dishonestly claimed £5,673 while working. 12:00: Lesley Barrett (right) pocketed £60,000 over a ten-year period The nearest to prison any defendant came was Lesley Barrett, 39, who over a decade had claimed Income Support, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit as a single mother when, in fact, her partner lived with her. As a result of the deceit she had received some £60,000 in benefits to which she was not entitled. Despite the sum involved, Barrett was given a suspended prison sentence after a judge at Birmingham Crown Court was told that she had to care for her two epileptic daughters. The re-payment arrangement for Barrett, as with the other defendants, had been made prior to her arriving in court. In most cases, all fraudulent claims will be paid in instalments from their future benefits. While a sympathetic view needs to be taken in some cases, Barretts case also serves to reinforce the feeling that whatever a Government promises to do to reform the benefits system, there is always something that stops it being put in to action on the ground. Benefit fraud is now so widespread that it costs the country more than £1 billion a year. What became apparent from the stream of cases I witnessed during the day I spent at court in Birmingham this week is that many of those who plead guilty to the offence commit benefit fraud out of greed and opportunity not survival. Heres how the day unfolded case by case. 10:00 First in front of the magistrates of Court number 18 is 42-year-old Aklis Uddin. He has pleaded guilty to claiming Jobseekers Allowance while having savings of £20,000 in a bank account an amount that makes him ineligible to claim the benefit. The money, he said, came from his mother to pay for repairs to his house. But instead he placed it in a savings account and failed to declare it. The court is told he has already paid back the £5,385 and his lawyer says he has accepted what he did was dishonest. He walks from the court with a nine-month community order. 10:25 Uddins younger brother Kamal, 34, is also charged with a similar offence. But he does not turn up and the court is told he is in Bangladesh looking after his seriously-ill mother. Apparently, Uddin junior has promised to return within six weeks. The court issues a warrant, which means he will be picked up the minute he returns to the country. 10:30 10.30AM: Next up it is the case of Halima Hameed (see above), who pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to working while claiming Income Support. 11:00 Safina Begum, 26, follows facing three charges that accuse her of having married in 2009 and of failing to tell the DWP of this change in her circumstances. This would have affected her right to claim Housing Benefit, Council Tax Benefit and Income Support. As such, it is alleged that she had fraudulently claimed £10,127.61. Begum denies the allegations. She turns down the option of a trial in the magistrates court, opting instead to go to the crown court. 11:20 The final case of the morning in the magistrates court is that of Aqeel Abid. At an earlier hearing the 22-year-old has admitted working while receiving Jobseekers Allowance. Miss Gurminder Sanghera, prosecuting, outlines how Abid started claiming benefits in January 2008, after stating that he had no other source of income. In fact, he had been working as a manager in his fathers curry restaurant. Interviewed by DWP investigators, it was put to Abid that he had bought a house in the same year he started signing on. He had made a mortgage application for £124,000, stating in the documentation that he was earning £27,500 a year at the restaurant. The investigator then advised him he had been under surveillance and he had been observed serving, waiting and cooking in the restaurant. In total it was calculated that Abid had fraudulently claimed £5,673.09. As well as having to pay back the money at a rate of £50 a month he is given a 12-month community sentence and ordered to do 80 hours unpaid work. Terry Kellyman Fazal Ahmed 14:40: Terry Kellyman (left) claimed benefits of £2,781 while working. 15:00: Fazal Ahmed (right) fraudulently claimed £4,899 in Income Support 12:00 While the magistrates court breaks for lunch, over in the citys crown court the sentencing of Lesley Barrett is coming to a conclusion. The case is being heard there because of the large sum £60,253.93 involved. Barrett had claimed Income Support, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit as a single mother since 2001 when her partner lived with her. It was established that he paid for her Sky TV, phone bill and for holidays abroad with her children. Sentencing, Judge Philip Parker QC says she is avoiding a custodial sentence only because jailing her would deprive her sick children of the assistance and security she provided. 14:00 Back to the magistrates and a quick adjournment in the case of Kelly Neale. The 26-year-old is accused of living with her partner while claiming Income Support. Her lawyers argue that the figures suggest she might have actually claimed less, rather than more, than she was entitled to. Further inquiries are ordered to be made by the DWP. 14:15 Next is the case of Ann Chin, 57, who hobbles in to court with a stick, weeping. It is alleged that from 2002 she had dishonestly claimed £24,372.35 in Disability Allowance. The court hears that when making her initial claim Mrs Chin said she suffered from diabetes and injuries sustained in a car accident, which meant she needed constant supervision and care. But it is alleged she actually had a job as a care worker and used her daughters National Insurance number. Mrs Chin pleads not guilty to two charges and the case is adjourned for a crown court trial. 14:40 Dreadlocked Terry Kellyman, 49, follows and his case is quickly dealt with as he pleads guilty to working while claiming Jobseekers Allowance. He had fraudulently claimed £2,781.84. He receives a conditional discharge for 12 months and is ordered to pay £100 costs. 15:00 Another guilty plea this time from 56-year-old Fazal Ahmed. The magistrates hear how he failed to tell the DWP about a change in circumstances that meant he had too much capital to be eligible for Income Support. Evidence became available that showed Mr Ahmed became the owner of a second home, said prosecutor Miss Sanghera. There is no evidence of this being declared. In all the claim was put at £4,899.99. Ahmeds solicitor speaks of his regret and remorse. Now claiming Incapacity Benefit, he is fined £65 with costs of £115. Asked how he intends to pay off that sum, Ahmed replies: I will pay it with a cheque. 15:25 Representing herself, barmaid Linda Brueton, 41, pleads guilty to working while claiming benefits. The court is told she first began claiming Jobseekers Allowance in November 2007, despite the fact she had a job in a social club. In all she dishonestly claimed £5,435.81. I know it was wrong, she tells the court, as she pleads guilty. Her case is adjourned for a pre-sentence report. Linda Brueton Robert Barry Gates 3:25pm: Linda Brueton (left) was working as a barmaid while claiming £5,435. 16:15: Robert Gates (right) had £50,000 in the bank when he claimed £2,526 15:40 Next up is Amanda Matthews, 27. She faces two charges of failing to notify the DWP that she was living with a partner while claiming Income Support, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit as a single parent. Evidence of the co-habitation was supported by the fact that the man in question had made a loan application from their house and that he was paying their Sky television subscription. In all, Matthews has fraudulently claimed £8,634.09. She pleads guilty and the case is adjourned for a pre-sentence report. 15:55 Other cases fail to progress at all, wasting the courts time and the publics money. Arminder Gill arrives without his solicitor, who he says was unable to make it to the hearing. The 31-year-old is accused of having excess capital which lead to him wrongly claiming some £10,000 over six years. The case is adjourned for a fortnight and Mr Gill told to be at the court on the day in question no later than 9.30am. Could it be later? he asked. My bus pass isnt valid until after 9.30. The answer from the panel? No. 16:00 Three more cases are dealt with in the absence of the defendants. One has rung in sick and two had not replied to summonses. Warrants are issued for the arrest of the two who cannot be contacted. 16:05 At 60, Robert Gates is the oldest benefits cheat of the day. He leaves court with a £235 fine and costs of £115 having admitted failing to declare savings of more than £50,000 when claiming Jobseekers Allowance in 2009. That had led to a fraudulent claim of £2,526.30, which he had since repaid. 16:15 The final case of the day is that of 24-year-old Osama Alaubaib. Originally from Sudan, he arrived in this country six years ago and yet at court on Tuesday is unable to speak or understand English. His case is delayed after an Arabic-speaking translator twice booked by the court fails to show up. When one finally arrives, the court was told how Alaubaib had been working when claiming Jobseekers Allowance for three years. When interviewed, he said he believed he was allowed to work for 16 hours a week without telling the DWP. He pleads guilty and is fined £100 with costs of £115. Why do I have to pay money to the court as well? he asks, through the interpreter. He had, the court is told, already started paying back the £2,825.75. So far he had managed £5. And with that he headed out into Birmingham city centre. One day, one city, 18 cases, involving tens of thousands of pounds worth of fraud no wonder Mr Cameron is worried.