In response to Lord Agnew’s speech, a Downing Street spokesperson said: “We’ve always been clear fraud is unacceptable and are taking action against those abusing the system.”
But if leaders are able to take action on fraud and return £29bn back to the public coffers, it could give a welcome boost to spending in other areas. Here are a few suggestions.
The money could pay for an extra 820,000 NHS nurses
The pandemic has pushed NHS staff to the limit with 27,000 calling it quits as part of ‘The Great Resignation‘ following draining long shifts, burnout and traumatic spells helping patients battle Covid.
With the virus still putting the health service under pressure, there is an urgent need to fill those roles.
An extra £29bn would certainly help. With an NHS nurse earning on average of £35,340 per year – according to the Royal College of Nursing, taking into account earnings from working unsocial hours, extra shifts or on-call payments – that would pay for an extra 820,599 extra nurses.
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The money could pay for around 12 billion free school meals
The money spent on feeding children who need free school meals to stave off hunger has been a hot topic throughout the pandemic, mostly thanks to the efforts of Marcus Rashford.
The Manchester United and England striker has forced a number of government U-turns on paying for kids to have access to food during school holidays and forced ministers to commit funds to make sure no child goes hungry.
Rashford would certainly welcome £29bn extra to help in his mission.
Westminster pays a flat rate of £2.30 for every child per free school meal in England and around 1.7m kids receive the food – a cost of around £700m per year. If the £29bn recovered from fraud was to be put towards free school dinners, it would pay for 12.6bn meals in England.
The money could pay for more than half the UK’s energy bills
The cost of living crisis is starting to bite and is set to get worse in April when rising energy prices turn up the heat on low-income households already facing soaring prices and bills from all sides.
The new energy price cap is set to be announced next month and will come into force in April but rising energy prices are an inevitability given the rising demand for gas that is pushing up prices globally.
Investment bank Investec has estimated the energy price cap will have to be lifted to £1,995-a-year per household from April.
With 27.8 million households in the UK, according to the Office for National Statistics’ most recent count, the maximum that the whole of the UK could be paying for their energy would be around £55.4bn a year.
Recovering £29bn in fraud could pay for just over half – 52 per cent – of UK households’ total energy bill if the price cap does reach forecasted levels in April.
The money could pay for annual homelessness funding 45 times over
Rishi Sunak announced that £640m per year of Westminster government money would go towards tackling homelessness and rough sleeping for the next three years, working out at around a £2bn investment up until 2024.
The Conservatives committed to ending rough sleeping across England by 2024 as a manifesto commitment made ahead of the 2019 General Election. Although a review into how rough sleeping was handled during the Covid-19 pandemic – the Kerslake Commission – found that an extra £82m a year would be needed to hit the Tories’ target.
An additional £29bn would certainly help in that mission – that is 45 times the annual amount of money spent on tackling homelessness every year.
The money could pay for 116 British ambassadorial yachts
Since it was announced last year, the royal yacht that is set to sail the seas to boost British trade has become a go-to example of splurging taxpayers’ cash.
And just think how many of the £250m yachts you could buy with £29bn! It’s 116.