Paradise Papers shine unflattering light on world's offshore welfare system for the ultra wealthy

Perhaps the BBC should revive its daytime ‘Saints and Scroungers’ show and take it offshore 

James Moore
Chief Business Commentator
Monday 06 November 2017 11:37
Bermuda: Sun kissed offshore tax haven creating controversy after leak of 'Paradise Papers'
Bermuda: Sun kissed offshore tax haven creating controversy after leak of 'Paradise Papers'

Amid the BBC’s dismal daytime TV line up there was once a programme called Saints and Scroungers, dedicated to exposing welfare cheats (the scroungers) while at the same time telling heart-warming stories about the people who helped the needy (the saints).

It hasn’t been seen since 2015 so perhaps the format is in need of a shake-up. Can I humbly suggest how that might be accomplished?

How about taking Saints and Scroungers overseas, to Britain’s sun-kissed (and sometimes not so sun-kissed) crown dependencies. Saints and Scroungers Offshore could be dedicated to exposing wealthy tax avoiders; the people who abuse the welfare system for the wealthy.

The presenters and crew could work on their tans in places like, I don’t know, Bermuda, while doorstepping some of those that facilitate the cheating indulged in by the 0.01 per cent. Sorry, did I say cheating? To avoid trying to navigate the High Court in a wheelchair, perhaps I should re-phrase that. I meant, legally-sanctioned tax avoidance. Hopefully that should keep m’learned friends happy.

But back to the programme: After outing the accountants and law firms that facilitate this, the presenters could doorstep the people that use their services when they get back home.

Admittedly, that could present a bit of a challenge.

One of the people mentioned in the latest vast data leak from an offshore law firm is the Queen, who is, when she’s not performing ceremonial duties as the head of state, the biggest welfare recipient in Britain. Trying to doorstep Her Maj at Buckingham Palace would likely get the team arrested.

The others so far named in the so-called Paradise Papers tend to have pricey PR people, security on their homes, and big name lawyers to send angry letters for them if their activities look like they’re going to be publicised.

Which is why it probably won’t happen.

In fact, the job of exposing some of those named in the papers is being left to Panorama, and other media outlets.

That’s probably a good thing. This is a subject that deserves to be aired on prime time, not day time, TV.

Whether the current, and developing, firestorm will result in anyone being brought to book – which is what typically happened to the low level sleaze balls featured in Saints and Scroungers – is open to question.

You see, there’s one rule for Wayne Smith, who does a bit of window cleaning on the side while claiming Jobseekers Allowance, quite another for Lord Wilbur Simpkins-Smythe, who sits on the Tory benches in the House of Lords, says no one’s really poor in Britain, and urges tougher sanctions on benefit cheats before sitting down to dinner with his advisors to discuss how best to keep his pile away from the prying eyes of HM Revenue and Customs.

The last such data dump, known as the Panama Papers, produced a lot of talk, calls for transparency, and promises to bring the subject up at international pow wows. But nothing much changed.

That shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. Several of the people named in those papers were wealthy Tory donors, and there will surely be more of them coming to light over the coming days.

The Government is terribly keen to root out welfare cheats, and ensure poor people who receive welfare payments learn what it’s supposedly like to be in work by being paid in arrears via its train wreck of a Universal Credit, a policy that is causing terrible hardship.

It’s rather less enthusiastic about taking real and meaningful action on tackling abuses of the welfare system for the wealthy.

The same is true of at least some of the authorities in other countries.

This is an international issue, and I doubt this will be the last such internationally embarrassing leak.

What’s that I hear you say? Shouldn’t I be talking about some saints for my proposed Saints and Scroungers Offshore?

Outside of JK Rowling, who keeps falling down rich lists because she gives so much money away, they’re not all that easy to find.

So we’ll probably have to rely on the odd dinner-jacketed toff dropping some coins into the hands of the homeless people they step over on their way out of the opera.

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