So I'm in a bar, speaking to this friend of mine, who we'll call Bill.
Bill's a defence lawyer in Glasgow, deals with shoplifters, sticky-fingered junkies and pavement boxers, that kind of thing. He's telling me about Mr S, who he's just finished defending against a charge of fraudulent benefits claims.
"Mr S is in his fifties", Bill says. "He's an engineer, worked in the same factory since he was nineteen. Two years ago, boom, firm goes into administration and lays off the entire workforce. Suddenly, it's unemployment. Mr S gets Jobseeker's Allowance, but it's a shitty way to live. He's still trying to pay off his mortgage, two kids to look after, and nobody anywhere wants to hire a fifty-four year old engineer..."
"Sucks to be him" I say.
"Sure does. So one day, Mr S shows up at the Job Centre. The guy behind the desk says, we've been looking at your case, and you've claimed six hundred and fifty quid that you aren't entitled to".
"Over two years?" I ask, doing a quick calculation. "My God, he's been ripping us all off for more than six quid a week".
Bill nods. "Yeah, the guy's a regular Ronnie Biggs. So Mr S says it was an accident, that he ticked the wrong box, says the form was long and confusing".
"Did you believe him?" I ask, thinking back to my own fortnight on the dole. I had to fill in a form the size of a novella and I got the princely sum of eight quid, and no job offers... And that was in 1999, the salad days by comparison.
"Hell," Bill says, "The sheriff believed him, not that it did him any good. I've seen those forms. You need a degree in fucking advanced mathematics to work those things out. Mr S is all like I've worked for every penny I've ever earned and I've never stolen nothing from anyone and all that shit".
"Is it true?".
"Who knows? Who cares? Not me, not the clerks, especially not the sheriff. Intentional, unintentional, it's all the same. So anyway, the DWP are having this big crackdown on benefit cheats, and they're not interested in Mr S's offer to pay them back. Pay them with what, the money they're giving him?"
"We couldn't have that".
"No, heaven forfend. Doesn't matter whether he meant it, doesn't matter whether he ripped off five hundred quid or fifty thousand. Here he is sitting in a room with a sheriff, some lawyers and a pack of twitchy junkies and wham, conviction, there you go. Guy never had a chance of getting off with it, really".
"Bad luck for Mr S", I say. "I hope he gets a job soon. Imagine having to go back to the Jobcentre to grovel for change to the same guys that poled you up the backside like that".
"Well, if he was struggling to get a job before, he sure isn't going to find it any easier now that he's got a criminal conviction for dishonesty. You have to declare that to potential employers, you know".
I whistled. "Man, that's harsh. Does the government know this kind of thing is going on?"
Bill gave me a funny look, like I'd asked where babies come from. "Mate, I told you - the government is pushing this crackdown so hard it's a wonder their arms don't burst out of their sockets".
I gave that some thought. "I wonder what Iain Duncan Smith thinks about folk like Mr S", I said.
"Hell, I bet he stays up all night long worrying about those motherfuckers", Bill said, draining his pint. "I bet their plight just breaks his heart".
"Iain Duncan Smith has a heart?"
"I fucking hope so, or there'll be nothing for the vampire hunters to drive a wooden stake through... Same again?"
I finished my pint. "Of course," I said.