Chancellor got his numbers wrong in Spending Review, say Churches

Churches have voiced concern over Chancellor George Osborne'sinaccurate use of welfare fraud statistics in his Spending Reviewspeech.

The Methodist Church, the Baptist Union of Great Britain and theUnited Reformed Church have criticised the Chancellor for claimingthat welfare fraud is responsible for cheating tax payers out of £5billion a year.

A Department of Work and Pensions report published last weekstated that welfare fraud accounts for £1 billion of money lost,with tax credit fraud accounting for an additional £0.6 billion,leading to £1.6 billion lost in total. Church leaders said theexaggerated £5 billion figure depicts the poorest and mostvulnerable in society as thieves.

"Exaggerating benefit fraud points the finger of blame at thepoor," said Revd Alison Tomlin, President of the MethodistConference. "Let us be clear this recession was not caused by thepoor, those on benefits, or even benefit cheats. The poorest insociety only got poorer during the boom years and it's simply notfair to make them pay for the bust.

"Questions also need to be asked about the £7 billion ofuncollected tax revenues that the Chancellor claims he istargeting. According to the HMRC, there is approximately £42billion in uncollected revenues; why does Mr Osborne only speak of£7 billion?"

Revd Graham Sparkes, Head of Faith and Unity at the Baptist Unionof Great Britain, said: "There is already deep concern that thesevere reductions in welfare provision will cause immense hardshipto the most vulnerable. This misuse of figures to exaggerate thescale of benefit fraud only adds to the sense of injustice."

Mr Simon Loveitt, Public Issues Spokesperson for the UnitedReformed Church, added: "The coalition government is very keen totalk about fairness and the false notion that 'we are all in thistogether', but the Chancellor's exaggeration of fraud and lastweek's Comprehensive Spending Review confirm the grim reality thatit is those who are most vulnerable who will pay the price for thatwhich is so clearly not their fault."