After a week free of blogging due to manic activity getting ready for the hugely successful London Labour Housing Group Policy Conference on Saturday, that all-too-common feeling of outrage descended on me again this morning whilst watching a BBC News 24 report on the start of the total benefits cap in 4 London boroughs.
I love the BBC but sometimes it is just crap. So, they tell us with no hint of contradiction that the £500 cap is the same as the average worker receives; it affects 40,000 households, and over 8,000 people have already taken up work ‘because of the cap’. Minister John Hoban then trots out the same guff in interview without a hint of contradiction.
So let’s be clear. All of the ‘facts’ that the BBC dutifully reported are, at best, controversial and, at worst, downright misleading.
£500 may be average take-home pay of people in work but it is not their average income taking account of in-work benefits (tax credits for example or in-work housing benefit). The comparison that the Government makes with people on out-of-work benefits simply does not compare like with like. This seems like a generic Government failing as Grant Shapps did exactly the same thing recently with housebuilding figures.
It seems that ‘40,000 affected households’ is a back-of-the-fagpacket figure dreamed up by DWP to replace their previous and equally fanciful estimate of 56,000 (I believe they call it ‘ad hoc analysis’). In truth, they have very little idea. The ‘8,000’ who have taken up work reflects normal movement in and out of work and has little if anything to do with the cap.
As the excellent TUC Touchstone blog points out, in February 287,500 people moved onto Jobseekers’ Allowance and 292,000 moved off – it is no surpise that 8,000 of those who moved off were also subject to the cap, and will now escape it by being in work. But DWP also beg the question – if you count those coming off, what about those going on? How many of those who went on to JSA are also now included in the cap?
According to the Guardian Politics Blog this morning, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady has complained to the UK Statistics Authority, calling for an investigation into the alleged misuse of statistics by the Department for Work and Pensions in claiming that the government’s welfare changes are working.
Frances says: “It was wrong for Iain Duncan Smith to claim that the impending benefits cap has spurred people into finding jobs. The government’s own analysts say that 16,000 fewer people will be affected because ministers have changed the rules about who is eligible, not because of any change in behaviour. The Department for Work and Pensions is a serial offender for misusing statistics. Perhaps ministers should be subject to a three-strikes-and-you’re-out rule. If you need to make the supporting evidence up, then you must have a pretty weak argument.”
And on Touchstone the TUC says: “This is the latest in a long line of recent DWP misprepresentations, which all stem from the problem that the evidence doesn’t appear to fit with what the Secretary of State believes. But not content with ignoring the facts when formulating his policies, it now appears that he is also happy to disregard them when reporting on their impacts. Meanwhile, in the real world, thousands of families prepare to lose their homes, children will be taken out of school, bed and breakfast crisis housing booms and more than five jobseekers continue to chase every post. It’s a shame that the Secretary of State can’t spend as much time tackling our jobs crisis as he does fiddling the statistics.”
Benefits is not my strongest suit so I normally rely on the writings of real experts like Steve Wilcox who edits the UK Housing Review and Declan Gaffney who writes an excellent blog for people with a slightly techie interest in the detail, and is also superb on analysing the myths on welfare and welfare recipients.
This, and information from lots of other sources, is all publicly available and directly contradicts what Government is saying. So is it too much to expect that the BBC (and other media outlets, they are not alone) might at least check out some of the figures before quoting them as fact?