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

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

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

Simon Loveitt, United Reformed Church spokesperson on Public Issuesand a Church Related Community Worker in Bradford said, "£1 inunpaid tax is just as damaging to the public purse as £1 inoverpaid benefit. Each pound is vital in recession-hit communitieslike ours. Organisations with long track records of helping peopleback to work are faced with closure. Social entrepreneurs who haverepeatedly brought money and jobs into deprived areas are beingstarved of funds. Many are on notice of redundancy waiting to seehow the cuts will affect their work.

"Most importantly people working hard to improve their own andtheir families' lives are being left behind. The last thing theyneed is government ministers over-stating the amount of fraudulentbenefit claims, and thereby stigmatising some of the mostvulnerable people in our communities."

Revd Alison Tomlin, President of Methodist Conference, said "Thevalue of an individual has nothing to do with their financialwealth. People on benefits are equally deserving of the dignity andrespect that the better-off in society take for granted. Anacknowledgement from the Chancellor that exaggeration of welfarefraud harms the reputation of claimants would indicate that thegovernment shares these values. The Department of Work and Pensionshas already corrected this error in its documents; the Budgetrepresents an opportunity for the Chancellor to do thesame."