Monday, 1 November 2010

Churches Accuse Osborne Over Benefit Fraud

Three of Britain's churches have accused Chancellor George Osborne of exaggerating the scale of benefit fraud during his speech to the Commons on the Spending Review a fortnight ago.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, the Methodist Church, the Baptist Union of Great Britain and the United Reformed Church argue that the government's own statistics show the Chancellor's claim that welfare fraud amounts to £5 billion every year is untrue. A Department for Work and Pensions report [PDF] says that benefit fraud is estimated at £1 billion and tax credit fraud is estimated at £0.6 billion, making a total of £1.6 billion. However, the report also makes clear that the remaining £2.2 billion is due to genuine error on the part of officials or benefit recipients.

The churches say that deliberately conflating these figures has the effect of depicting the poorest and most vulnerable in society as thieves. They also challenge the the Chancellor's claim that he is targeting £7 billion of uncollected tax revenues when, according to HM Revenue and Customs, there are actually around £42 billion in uncollected taxes. This suggests that Osborne is deliberately downplaying business tax fraud - the biggest shortfall was in VAT, with £15.2 billion or 16% of all potential tax was uncollected, followed by an estimated £6.9 billion in unpaid corporation tax - whilst exaggerating the level of illegal payments to welfare claimants.

I'm am not, as you may gather from other posts on this blog, at all religious but this intervention by the nonconformist churches is very welcome. Simply and clearly, it shows how the ConDems' talk about fairness is meaningless when the most senior members of the government are prepared to mislead with statistics. It's just a shame that their efforts haven't attracted more media coverage.

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