The of Power of Stats

Stats, they are a curious thing. They make one man weep and another man sing. That’s the power of stats. A sample of the B-Side version of the Power of Love that Huey Lewis and the News didn’t release for you there. It’s a shame as I feel this should be the perfect anthem for both Iain ‘never knowingly gets a stats release right’ Duncan Smith and the DWP, given their ability to balls up a statistical release. Politicians have always had a bit of an ambiguous relationship with statistics and quite often the truth (here’s looking at you Chris Huhne, Jeffrey Archer).  However it is more than a little disconcerting when an entire government department gets the whoopsies on data release.

Don’t get me wrong I don’t think many people trawl through statistical releases in the same way they gulp down the latest thing the Daily Mail erroneously states will give you cancer. But if you release figures in a misleading way they will be used by ‘the media’, twisted and then spat out at the general public. This charming bunch of homo-sapiens will then internalise the warped message and start an irrational disliking of a group of people they don’t know and most likely will never meet.  I might be a little deterministic in my thinking there but you get the point. Having a government department that couldn’t organise the proverbial knees in a place that ferments beverages of an alcoholic nature is dangerous. Half truths become fact, misunderstandings foster anger and resentment, people vote for UKIP.

But I digress. The latest episode of incompetence appears to be claims around disabled claimants of benefits. The UK Statistics Authority, an entity definitely not on IDS’ Christmas card list, has again slapped down his baldness. The DWP stated that 50% of claimants got a decision for Disability Living Allowance just on the basis of what was on the claim form. Crucially this would mean all these decisions were made without any additional medical evidence to support them.  Don’t worry though, in actual fact it was around 10% of claimants who had their decision made this way. Whoops. More amusingly it was the DWP’s own data that seemingly incriminated its own mess up. The UKSA took particular gumption at the ambiguous nature of the statement.  As Channel 4 News noted the message from this release does have a rather nasty sub-text. People on benefits get nothing for free and don’t deserve the financial assistance they get. Those “something for nothing people” at it again.  This appears to a common thread amongst a number of the gaffs from IDS et al (for more on these see below).  It is a prime example of ideology leading facts rather than evidence leading policy decisions.  Call me an old fashion lad but I believe you should follow the figures, not make them fit the way you see the world.

Cudos to the campaign group Parkinson’s UK for challenging the statement on DLA. But it is deeply concerning that such a mundane release of ‘facts’ should have to be challenged.  As the campaign group noted via Steve Ford, its Chief Executive:

“The Department of Work and Pensions has a long track record of misusing statistics when it comes to the benefits system.

“It’s clear this was a tactic to vindicate further welfare cuts.

“It is absurd that the Government was trying to imply that anyone going through the system had an easy ride.”

“The Department of Work and Pensions has a long track record of misusing statistics when it comes to the benefits system.

“It’s clear this was a tactic to vindicate further welfare cuts.

“It is absurd that the Government was trying to imply that anyone going through the system had an easy ride.”

– See more at: http://www.parkinsons.org.uk/news/15-may-2014/government-under-fire-misleading-benefit-statistics#sthash.88aVV5Eu.dpuf

“The Department of Work and Pensions has a long track record of misusing statistics when it comes to the benefits system.

“It’s clear this was a tactic to vindicate further welfare cuts.

“It is absurd that the Government was trying to imply that anyone going through the system had an easy ride.”

– See more at: http://www.parkinsons.org.uk/news/15-may-2014/government-under-fire-misleading-benefit-statistics#sthash.88aVV5Eu.dpuf

“The Department of Work and Pensions has a long track record of misusing statistics when it comes to the benefits system.

“It’s clear this was a tactic to vindicate further welfare cuts.

“It is absurd that the Government was trying to imply that anyone going through the system had an easy ride.”

– See more at: http://www.parkinsons.org.uk/news/15-may-2014/government-under-fire-misleading-benefit-statistics#sthash.88aVV5Eu.dpuf

“The Department of Work and Pensions has a long track record of misusing statistics when it comes to the benefits system.

“It’s clear this was a tactic to vindicate further welfare cuts.

“It is absurd that the Government was trying to imply that anyone going through the system had an easy ride.”

– See more at: http://www.parkinsons.org.uk/news/15-may-2014/government-under-fire-misleading-benefit-statistics#sthash.88aVV5Eu.dpuf

“The Department of Work and Pensions has a long track record of misusing statistics when it comes to the benefits system.

“It’s clear this was a tactic to vindicate further welfare cuts.

“It is absurd that the Government was trying to imply that anyone going through the system had an easy ride.”

– See more at: http://www.parkinsons.org.uk/news/15-may-2014/government-under-fire-misleading-benefit-statistics#sthash.88aVV5Eu.dpuf

“The Department of Work and Pensions has a long track record of misusing statistics when it comes to the benefits system.

“It’s clear this was a tactic to vindicate further welfare cuts.

“It is absurd that the Government was trying to imply that anyone going through the system had an easy ride.”

– See more at: http://www.parkinsons.org.uk/news/15-may-2014/government-under-fire-misleading-benefit-statistics#sthash.88aVV5Eu.dpuf

To honour this latest round of ‘let’s be liberal with the truth’ I have gathered a few of the other mess ups by the DWP/IDS for you.  I would say enjoy, but they are actually pretty depressing.

Depreciation Gate

When does a write off not count as a write off? Often if you ask the DWP, who were desperately trying to spin the fiasco around Universal Credit IT system so as IDS’ vanity project would not come across as a Class A f@*k up.  The jury is still out as to whether they managed it.  Either way the Work and Pensions select Committee was not impressed.

DLA Claims Gate

Grant Shapps and Duncan Smith got a telling off for “concocting” a figure (of around 878,000 people) that had left Employment Support Allowance in order to avoid a medical assessment.  It was hoped such a claim would help to firm up their argument that the benefits system needing reforming.  The UKSA stepped in to hand out a wet plimsoll beat down as this figure was as based in reality as Grant Shapps’ ambition to be leader of the Tories.  Mind you Iain Duncan Smith was leader at one point, so anything is possible.

Benefit Cap…Gate

As with the sweeping statement on DLA decisions, Mr Baldilock’s assertion that 8,000 people had moved into work because of the Benefit Cap landed him in trouble. The UKSA, yes them again, stated that this claim was “unsupported by the official statistics” that is jargon for utter baloney.

Universal Credit er, Gate

It will be delivered on time. It may be delivered on time. OK it will delivered in a controlled roll out, gradually, to all of the UK within our estimated timescales. Oh bollocks, it will just be rolled out to a few sheep in the North West. Hopefully it will reach everyone else by the next century.  Not really a statistical slip up, but it shows the trouble the department has with at least being up front on issues it is facing.

So what can we do about all this ineptitude and the rather uncomfortable subtext to messed up data releases? Well as Parkinson’s UK have highlighted, quite a bit.  An official rebuke, and the press coverage that goes with it, is helpful to the cause. It doesn’t completely counter the massive amount of negative media towards benefit claimants and social housing, but it is a start. In the meantime it shows Messrs Duncan Smith et al. that people are watching and they need to up their game. That’s the power of stats. Well the UK Statistical Authority at any rate.

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