The Communities and Local Government department used to pride itself in its rigorous approach to ‘evidence based policy making’. Now it has become the seat of ‘policy based evidence making’, at least on the Ministerial corridor.
The latest examples have been Eric Pickles’ latest pronouncements on the ‘troubled families’ programme and Grant Shapps’ increasingly distant relationship with accurate statistics.
To start with Red Brick favourite Grant Shapps. Labour shadow Jack Dromey has written to the UK Statistics Authority complaining about Shapps’ ‘consistent misrepresentation and misuse of statistics in relation to housing and homelessness’. He cites a number of examples of misuse including housing supply and affordable housing supply before and after the 2010 Election; rough sleeping; and the cost of a self-build home – examples where ‘the statistics used are factually incorrect or deliberately misleading’.
My own favorite is Shapps trying to wash away appalling homelessness figures with the ‘fact’ that they are below the average under the Labour Government, ignoring the inconvenient truth that they were coming down under Labour but are now going up under the Tories. I was equally surprised that the department went along with the extraordinary stretch of the imagination involved in claiming that right to buy sales would be replaced one for one. Shapps also presides over the appalling lack of transparency at the Homes and Communities Agency which has yet to provide any comprehensible information on the so-called ‘affordable rent’ programme.
You could record your favourite Shapp stats on Twitter using hashtag #shappstistics
Meanwhile, Pickles has taken ‘policy based evidence’ to a new height with his announcements concerning ‘troubled families’. As we pointed out on Red Brick last year, here and here, the actual criteria for identifying the 120,000 families are genuine indicators of poverty and family stress – but they have no relation at all to the Pickles description of people we should ‘understand less and stigmatise and condemn more’.
Even less do they have any relation to David Cameron’s attack on families that cause trouble and cost the state a fortune – the official criteria simply do not contain measures for example that identify police involvement or anti-social behaviour.
The Guardian concludes that this ‘conflation between the dangerous and the dispossessed betrays malignancy as well as incompetence’ and ‘Mr Pickles is not bravely trampling on taboos by speaking plainly. He is simply taunting and calling names.’
An update: Fullfact’s latest look at Mr Shapps use of statistics in relation to affordable housebuilding concludes that ‘the Housing Minister’s use of statistics on affordable housing starts as ‘evidence of impressive results’ paints a misleading picture’. You bet.