THERE was a time when Joe Public knew who we could trust.

It may have been in the good old days of a pothole-free Glasgow, but your local bobby, your GP, clergymen, bankers, even MPs were esteemed as upstanding pillars of society.

My, how those pillars have toppled, victims of a scandal tsunami that has left trust in our institutions as rare as Old Firm love-ins.

We once also had an expectation of buying food that wouldn't poison us, and getting prompt and safe NHS care in wards where matron was infinitely more thorough than alcohol hand wash.

But we've become more suspicious of established norms, prompted by a dysfunctional millionaire-dominated Coalition government that's in thrall to big business and all the other fat cats who abuse what is meant to be a democracy.

We'll leave for another time a debate on the differences between trust and trustworthiness, but we citizens have become increasingly mistrustful even of one another.

You can blame the collapse of community, rampant economic inequality, or a decline in moral standards, but we have every reason to be wary.

As government estimates put fraud across the whole UK economy at £73billion-a-year, why has public anger been steered towards people on benefits?

I'll tell you why.

Keeping the spotlight on state handouts, and vilifying claimants, masks government incompetence and their deplorable inaction on corporate and fat cat greed.

At under £1.6bn, fraud accounts for a tiny percentage of the total benefits pot of £166.6bn.

Of course it must be tackled, but why no rush to nab tax dodgers who cost the public purse TENS of billions ever year?

HMRC's 'tax gap' estimate, the difference between tax due and tax collected, was £35bn in 2011-12. The World Bank and Tax Research UK claim the actual chasm could be nearer £120bn.

If HMRC could collect what they are owed, even Ed Balls could chop the basic rate of tax from 20p to 12p.

It's immoral that tax dodgers escape while thousands are in fuel poverty, being hit with a bedroom tax, or turning to food banks, and it's time global giants were frisked at the check-out.

Eight companies, including the likes of Google and Amazon, netted £18.2bn in UK sales in 2012, but paid only £33m in tax.

It may be legal, but how can a shortfall of billions be morally justified?

It's the same question for publicly-owned failed banks paying out billions in bonuses, and for Royal Mail.

Sold on the cheap to the Coalition's hedge fund pals, it's giveaway valuation of £3.3bn has leapt by £1.5bn in just four months.

AND who has creamed off that profit? Not us stamp lickers, that's for sure.

An obscene amount of taxpayers' money is flowing out of Britain.

Take, for instance, our foreign aid budget, which will grow to an eye-watering £11.1bn over the next year.

We're not talking about your Oxfams or Save the Children. No, humanitarian aid gets less than 10% of that huge budget. Aid is not about charity. Aid is political.

The all-party Economic Affairs Committee says foreign aid is exposed to significant "leakage" through theft, fraud or corruption.

Then there's the leakage from the EU dripping roast. By the Commission's own figures, corruption costs the EU economy about £100bn-a-year.

Britain bankrolled EU institutions by £20bn in 2012 and got back only £7.78bn from Brussels.

And as their homes sink beneath the waves, the nation's flood victims can take comfort knowing that through the EU they have contributed £80m to Turkey - to upgrade their sewage system.

And to think there will be a hosepipe ban in England this summer. You couldn't make it up.

We have financial and political corruption, blue parking badge scams, identity theft, horse meat, counterfeit gift vouchers and supermarket coupons, dodgy satellite boxes, and online Nigerians seeking your bank account details to get imaginary loot oot of Africa.

But what are we to make of the huge rip-off revealed within our dear old NHS?

Scotland's health boards have recorded £2m of fraud by doctors, nurses and dentists as well as patients.

Experts in healthcare fraud say the actual cost to NHS Scotland could be as high as £800m-a-year.

But NHS fraudsters have the best of both worlds.

Not only are they not facing pokey, they are not even being required to pay back what they blagged.

Only 5% of people reported for fraud in the last five years have been convicted.

Meanwhile, the dodgers and the fraudsters will continue to live the life of Riley, until Riley wises up.

We need effective resources to detect fraudsters and if, as HMRC claim, every £1 spent chasing tax dodgers brings back £60, where's the economic sense in chopping staffing levels?

Joe Public would do well to remember that old Russian proverb: "Trust, but verify".