The Easter weekend not only saw the commencement of many of the Government’s hated welfare reforms, and an attack on them by a coalition of churches, it also saw the return of Grant Shapps to his old housing stamping ground and the wheeling out of Iain Duncan Smith, both desperately trying to justify their increasingly disastrous and oppressive housing policies.
The four churches had excellent impact with their Easter message accusing politicians and the media of promoting six myths about the poor: that they are lazy; are addicted to drink or drugs; are not really poor; cheat the system; have an easy life; and that they caused the deficit.
“The systematic misrepresentation of the poorest in society is a matter of injustice which all Christians have a responsibility to challenge,” they say. Shapps and Duncan Smith set out to prove just how right the churches are.
Shapps/Michael Green has clearly been working on a few new lines to peddle on the media. One concerns housebuilding, carefully worked out to be this side of a lie and the other side of misleading. I suspect we will hear it again. First he tweeted it then he repeated it twice on the World This Weekend during an interview with Shaun Ley. His two tweets (31 March) were:
Some house building facts. We’re building 170k affordable & social homes. Under Lab there was a net reduction of 430k social homes!
In under 3 years we’ve built more affordable & social homes than Labour added to the total in 13 years. No wonder a housing crisis built up!
This is little more than a straightforward deception, because houses built and the net change in the stock are entirely different things, the main difference being that the former does not take account of right to buy and other sales and the latter does. Any like for like comparison would show that his claim that somehow they have done more in 3 years than Labour did in 13 is complete baloney. I have asked Full Fact to check it out.
Shapps’ second piece of statistical trickery concerned disabled people and incapacity benefit. Again on 31 March he tweeted:
878,300 people on incapacity benefit removed themselves BEFORE taking test, knowing they’ll now be better off in work
In a series of tweets, Declan Gaffney @djmgaffneyw4 set out the source of this statistic and then showed that Shapps is factually inaccurate. He observed that the Government’s response to being accused by the churches of spreading dishonest myths about benefit claimants is ‘to blatantly misrepresent official statistics’ – ie to do more of the same. Declan then challenged Shapps to correct the record. We will see what happens next.
Meanwhile, the man that personifies skin-deep sincerity and faux concern for the poor, Iain Duncan Smith, told a disbelieving world that he could live on benefits of £53 a week, an estimated 97% reduction in his current income of £1,581.02 a week. A petition has been launched asking him to do just that for a year: you can add to the 20,000 signatures it has already gained. Will he/won’t he take up the challenge?
The fact that the Government is coming under increasing challenge, ranging from the Archbishop of Canterbury to dozens of demonstrations against the bedroom tax over the weekend, is very welcome. But the knockabout cannot disguise the serious damage being done to the poorest in the name of austerity.