23 March 2011

Chancellor must apologise to benefits claimants in budget speech, say Churches

In last year's statement on the Comprehensive Spending Review Chancellor George Osborne used figures which inflated benefit fraud threefold and played down the levels of unpaid tax, contrary to the Government's own figures. The Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church have asked him to use this week's Budget speech to apologise to benefit claimants and to use the correct figures.

Revd Graham Sparkes, Head of Faith and Unity for the Baptist Union of Great Britain, commented "At a time of austerity accurate numbers are important, as the Chancellor knows. Let us be clear: the government's own figures show that benefit fraud costs £1.6 billion - not £5 billion as he said in October - and unpaid tax costs £42 billion. Benefit fraud is clearly unacceptable, but unpaid tax is obviously more damaging to our economy."

Simon Loveitt, United Reformed Church spokesperson on Public Issues and a Church Related Community Worker in Bradford said, "£1 in unpaid tax is just as damaging to the public purse as £1 in overpaid benefit. Each pound is vital in recession-hit communities like ours. Organisations with long track records of helping people back to work are faced with closure. Social entrepreneurs who have repeatedly brought money and jobs into deprived areas are being starved of funds. Many are on notice of redundancy waiting to see how the cuts will affect their work.

"Most importantly people working hard to improve their own and their families' lives are being left behind. The last thing they need is government ministers over-stating the amount of fraudulent benefit claims, and thereby stigmatising some of the most vulnerable people in our communities."

Revd Alison Tomlin, President of Methodist Conference, said "The value of an individual has nothing to do with their financial wealth. People on benefits are equally deserving of the dignity and respect that the better-off in society take for granted. An acknowledgement from the Chancellor that exaggeration of welfare fraud harms the reputation of claimants would indicate that the government shares these values. The Department of Work and Pensions has already corrected this error in its documents; the Budget represents an opportunity for the Chancellor to do the same." 

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