It seems that you cannot switch on the TV anymore without one of the main channels showing a documentary on welfare ‘scroungers’. We all have the friends on Facebook and Twitter who are disgusted by these supposed people who sit down all day doing nothing, can still afford luxuries and earn more money than them who work hard, for long hours. The reality is that this is merely what is presented to us, as an audience, and the vast majority of people on benefits would much rather be working. But this doesn’t make for quite such a good documentary though, does it?

Programmes like ‘Benefits Street’ on Channel 4 caused outrage for both good and bad reasons. There were 1,800 complaints lodged to either Ofcom or Channel 4 itself. Viewers were disturbed by the unfair portrayal of welfare recipients who were depicted on the show as lazy and in some cases, criminals. Others felt that the street which the documentary was filmed on where half of the residents were on some kind of benefits, demonstrated just how in need of reform our welfare system is. Ofcom launched an investigation and found that Benefits Street did not breach any broadcasting guidelines.

What is concerning about the debate following the documentary  is that outrage was expressed about the people who receive benefits which are considered too generous and unfair on those who work hard and still struggle financially. This is the wrong debate to be having altogether. Abuse of the welfare system is rare. The real issue that should be angering people is tax avoidance by large corporations like Boots, Google and Vodafone. Both Unite and UK Uncut have reported that in the last seven years, Boots have avoided paying at least £1.12 billion. Unite say that this money could have funded 78,000 nurses, two years of prescription charges or 5.2 million ambulance calls. The union also reports that 40 percent of Boots UK revenues which total $4 billion come from prescriptions and related services which is funded by the taxpayer through the NHS.

Google is another corporation that has been criticised for tax avoidance. Despite continuing cuts to public services, the government has still not tackled the problem of tax avoidance. In 2011, Google had a turnover in the UK alone of £395 million, of which it paid just £6 million to the Treasury. In 2013, Google had a UK turnover of £3.4 billion whilst paying just £11.6 million in taxes to the Treasury. This demonstrates how government talk of getting tough on corporate tax avoidance is not something they really take seriously.

Another issue which was reported at the end of last month, but failed to cause much outrage, is the rising cost to the tax payer that comes from having a monarchy. This is partly because of a 45 percent increase in the cost of maintaining royal residences. The money spent by the monarchy from the Sovereign Grant, which comes from public funds, rose by £1.9 million last year. Does this not demonstrate an out of touch, archaic institution that at a time where many are struggling with unemployment and cuts to services, the royal family continue to increase their spending so sharply?

When we consider the extreme level of tax avoidance by large corporations, it seems even more ridiculous that some are so troubled and agitated by the fact that somebody who receives benefits can also have a nice TV. It seems that there is a war on welfare in our country which has been fuelled by the media, particularly television networks who want to provoke a reaction from its audience, and politicians who are seemingly unwilling to fight the real war on welfare — the war on corporate welfare.

 

Yannick Mitchell