George Osborne accused of fuelling 'ignorance' over welfare claims

Tax statements conflated many things not usually considered welfare

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Indy Politics

Personal tax statements sent out to British households by the Chancellor, George Osborne, have been criticised for “fuelling uncertainty” over how public money is spent.

The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies said the Government had failed to “strike a balance” between making detailed information easy to understand and spelling out exactly how it was spent.

In the figures sent to everyone who pays tax or National Insurance, £168bn – a quarter of all spending – was allocated to ‘welfare’. But though this figure does include means-tested benefits such as Jobseeker’s Allowance, it also covers social care for sick, disabled and elderly people, and children taken into care, which would not normally be classed as welfare spending.

The £20bn paid into public service pensions for retired nurses and soldiers was also included. “This is not spending that would normally be classed as welfare,” the IFS said.

On social care spending, it added: “There is a balance to be struck between the amount of detail presented and clarity of message.

“Lumping a quarter of total spending into one bucket labelled ‘welfare’ may not strike the most helpful balance, especially when it includes such diverse items as spending on social care, public service pensions, disability benefits, child benefit and unemployment benefits.”

Julia Unwin, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation warned the government’s presentation of the figures risked “fuelling even more ignorance and uncertainty” about welfare spending.

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, called on the Conservative party to foot the bill for the mail.

“The Conservatives have been caught blue-handed using taxpayers’ money for party political campaigning. They should be made to pay the full costs of this stunt,” she said.

A spokesperson for the Treasury said: “The headings in our tax summaries are based on internationally recognised (UN) definitions.”