Recently, the government has been veritably
pelted with questions, largely from its own back benches, asking it about the
VAT burden it is placing on charities. In both the Lords and the Commons, on
both sides of the aisle, our political representatives clearly don’t think much
of charities’ current tax bill.
It’s also pretty clear that the government
hasn’t any great plans to change the situation, because every question has been
met with some impressive stonewalling.
The most recent question was last Thursday
from Stuart Andrew, Conservative member for Pudsey, who asked what estimate the
chancellor had made of the cost of the recent VAT increase on charities.
The chancellor sent out David Gauke, the
exchequer secretary, to answer, and Gauke flat-batted it.
He was clearly unwilling to provide the
whole truth, which is that the government has made hardly any effort to
identify the cost to charities, but it knows the answer, because it has been
told, and it’s at least £140m, maybe closer to £200m.
Instead he repeated, in effect, that
charities got a really good deal from the government on VAT, and that while
charities might incur VAT, “information is not available to assess accurately
the amount or the effect of the increase”.
It was more of the same on Wednesday when
Kris Hopkins, another Tory backbencher, asked David Cameron about VAT in Prime
Minister’s Questions. Cameron said that he was very concerned about the issue,
but he would have to consider the impact on other sectors.
It was little different on Monday from Lord
Morris of Manchester and Lord Alton of Liverpool, except that it was Lord
Sassoon, the commercial secretary to the Treasury, doing the stony-faced
“There are no plans to introduce any
additional VAT recovery schemes for charities,” he said. Otherwise his answer
was so similar to Gauke’s earlier in the week that the Treasury may have cut a
stencil for it.
In total, 11 MPs and peers asked questions
in as many days, and it’s no coincidence that a large number of them reference
Sue Ryder Care, which loses £1m a year to VAT.
The charity’s chief executive, Paul
Woodward, implied earlier this year that his charity is totally frustrated at
the toll extracted from its hospices. He’s responded by launching almost the
direct opposite of a charm offensive at the government.
It’s hard to blame him, really, because
it’s such a patent injustice. While it’s pretty scandalous that the government
doesn’t fund these services, it’s almost beyond belief that it then taxes
charities for doing so. If I was faced with that monumental level of
ingratitude, I’d probably be angry too.
Although I would dearly love it if Sue
Ryder succeeded, I don’t hold out much hope. It’s clear from the recent replies
that this government, like the last one, knows the right thing to do, but just
won’t do it.