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27 April 2022

How the UK squandered billions during the Covid-19 pandemic

Around £33.6bn of taxpayers’ money has been lost to fraud and wastage.

By Michael Goodier

More than £30bn of taxpayers’ money is estimated to have been wasted during the Covid-19 pandemic on Bounce Back Loans that won’t be repaid, overpriced and faulty personal protective equipment (PPE), and fraudulent claims on the many government schemes that were set up to handle the economic fallout.

A New Statesman analysis of figures released in various reports by the National Audit Office (NAO), the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) and HMRC shows that about £33.6bn has been lost to fraud and wastage, with a further £2.7bn at risk. The figure is more than the combined budgets of the Home Office, Ministry of Justice and Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office for 2021-22.

About £17bn is expected to be lost to the Bounce Back Loan Scheme, around £7.5bn may have been lost due to fraud on the furlough, self-employment support and Eat Out to Help Out schemes, and almost £9bn is estimated to have been lost as a result of overpriced, poor quality or expired PPE, with the DHSC estimating £2.7bn more is at risk.

By comparison, the NAO found that the vaccine scheme “has provided value for money to date”. It is estimated that just over £300m has been wasted on the government’s vaccine programme, with £214m of that occurring after the UK government terminated an agreement with Valneva. Only 4 per cent of vaccines have been wasted in England, which when scaled up to UK spending figures equates to around £116m.

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