Tax evaders vs welfare cheats: I know who I'd go after

Piggy bankNo one could have escaped discussion about the welfare state over the past few months due to the tragic story of the Philpotts, but while the Daily Mail was blaming benefit culture Britain for the death of six children, it was failing to analyse the facts of another story.

The other story is that of trillions of pounds being hidden offshore by everyone from oligarchs and dictators to banking executives and arms dealers. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has trawled through millions of documents it was leaked on offshore tax havens and the people that hold their money there.

The group estimates that this global system of tax evasion shelters between $21 trillion and $32 trillion from authorities. That's right, trillions of pounds.

You may wonder why I'm pulling these two seemingly unrelated stories together but the fact is the past week has given rise to frankly shocking rhetoric about those claiming benefits. The horrific crimes of the Mick and Mairead Philpott have seemingly given the tabloid press and armchair critics free rein to label any person claiming benefits a scrounger or a cheat.

The fact is that the majority of benefit payments are paid to people in work, for help towards the cost of children or to top up low incomes. The stark facts are that less than £1 billion was lost to benefit fraud last year (a total of 0.7% of the welfare budget) – and while you may think this is high, it is a drop in the ocean when it comes to the amount of money lost to tax evasion every year.

Conservative estimates put the cost of tax evasion at £70 billion a year.

So while the British public is busy demonising people who receive benefits, they are ignoring the fact that exceedingly wealthy people in this country aren't paying their way.

Yes, it is bad that people cheat the benefit system in the UK, but it is equally terrible – if not more so – that people use their power and influence to cheat the tax system.

You'd think the government would be appalled by the rich paying less tax but it appears not to be true, as the 5% cut to the highest rate of tax has now come into force, meaning the richest people in the country pay 45% tax instead of 50%.

Under this government it seems that the rich do really get richer, and the poor really do get poorer.
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