Dead Men Left

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


Here's a star of the Tory hard-right, Edward Leigh, putting the boot in:

The public accounts committee demanded that the Department for Work and Pensions must step up its drive to reduce cheating and mispayment in the benefits bill.

The committee found that in 2003/04, the DWP lost an estimated £3bn out of its total expenditure of £109bn to fraud and error...

Edward Leigh, the committee chairman, slammed the failure to effectively combat abuse of the benefits system.

"The astronomical scale of the amount of benefit money being lost through fraud and error is vividly brought home to taxpayers by the astonishing fact that the figures are rounded to the nearest half a billion pounds," he said.

"Astronomical?" £3bn from a budget of £109bn is less than 3%. Yet David Blunkett has fallen into line with the Tories, offering typically Draconian (and typically ill-conceived) plans to harrass single parents, the disabled and the unemployed who dare attempting to improve upon their miserly hand-outs.

The £3bn figure disappears into irrelevance, however, when set beside the colossal scale of corporate fraud:

[Business advisers] RSM Robson Rhodes believe UK companies lost £32bn in 2003 through acts such as fraud, embezzlement, corruption and money laundering - and spent a further £8bn seeking to combat the problem.

Or, for that matter, tax avoidance. According to Prem Sikka, professor of accountancy at Essex:

Informed opinion is that the UK may be losing some £85bn in tax revenue each year, nearly twice the annual budget of the NHS.

Perhaps Blunkett would do better subjecting a few corporate accountants to his "lie detector tests".

(One final point: Blunkett appears to think there is "something very strange has happened to our society" if 2.8m people are now claiming incapacity benefit. This is quite correct: she was called Margaret Thatcher, and Blunkett’s government have done little to neutralise her poisonous legacy. As noted earlier, if the government really thinks it can turf perhaps hundreds of thousands of the disguised unemployed from IB and onto the labour market without imposing any strain on either the economies of depressed areas, or the rest of the benefits system, they have quite definitively lost the plot on welfare. "Crackers," as Blunkett himself said, elsewhere.)