Screwing the facts: Tory website bid to manipulate views on welfare

I learned about this trick years ago, when I was working for a broadsheet newspaper.

There had been a great deal of debate over its page size in previous years, but this had been settled by a survey, written by the paper’s bosses (who didn’t want any change).

You’re probably thinking the question was “Should this newspaper continue as a broadsheet or change to tabloid size?” If so, you’re a long way out. The actual question was this:

“Should this newspaper be smaller?”

Of course, the answer was a resounding “No!” People wanted value for money, and didn’t realise that they were being asked about the size of the paper’s pages and not the number of pages in the paper as a whole.

Today I was made aware of another survey that attempts to manipulate the responses it receives by cleverly-worded “leading” questions – except I’m referring to a survey on the Conservative Party website, so neither the questions nor their wording are particularly clever.

You can see it for yourself if you like but I’ll quote it verbatim here anyway.

“We’re interested in your view about the fairness of our benefit reforms” is the overture. I have to admit that, on reading this, I was overjoyed. At last a chance to let the Tories know how wrong-headed their approach has been! That they are hitting the vulnerable in society – and that their policies are in fact leading to the deaths of many of the most vulnerable. Fat chance.

“Conservatives in Government have made a decision that we will support people who work hard and that work will be rewarded.” This was the snap back to reality. Anyone reading this has to see that it’s a propaganda exercise. The only other response is to ask, when is this support going to happen?

“Labour say that benefits should go up by more than average wages – even though it will be the taxes of people in work that pays for this increase.” Whoa, whoa, WHOA, wait. The Conservatives aren’t about to lower the base rate of taxes (only the top rate, for the benefit of their extremely rich friends). Nor are they about to increase taxes. This is disingenous and manipulative. They are trying to say that their decision to depress rises in benefit payments is reasonable because it is in line with employers’ (and let’s remember the government is itself an employer) unreasonable decisions to keep their employees’ pay down (and we’ll get onto their own pay rises in a moment).

“We don’t think this is fair for the following reasons…

“1. A real terms increase would have meant that benefits increased more than the average salary.  Since 2007, benefits have increased by 20% whilst salaries have only increased by 10%. If the Government continued to increase benefits at a higher rate than salaries, this would not be fair on working people. The same working people who pay the taxes which fund the benefits to begin with.” Hogwash. Since 2007, benefits have increased in line with inflation and, as a result, people on benefits have been able to survive. Salaries may well have increased by only 10 per cent. I recall my own pay – before I became self-employed. Month after month, year after year, I saw my disposable income being whittled away in a series of poor pay increases, until I reached the point where continuing to work at the same company would put me into debt. That is the harsh reality of the British workplace in the 21st century, under the Tory-led Coalition.

“2. Working people are having their taxes cut. Changes to the personal allowance mean that working people will pay less tax and will keep more of their earnings. Anyone in work and receiving benefits will gain more from paying less tax, than what they lose from benefits not increasing in real terms.” This is simply untrue. 60 per cent of households attacked by the Tory-led government’s cuts to benefits are working households.

“3. To increase benefits in real terms would have meant borrowing more money. This Government is reducing borrowing and cutting the deficit. Labour would borrow more and add more debt to fund unlimited benefit rises. The Conservatives don’t believe that we should burden future generations with our debts in order to live beyond our means today.” The Conservatives are in fact borrowing more money now than Labour would have, if they had won the 2010 election – £212 billion more than planned, by 2015 alone. Using an expected increase in borrowing as an excuse to deprive the most vulnerable of their ability to survive adequately is plain disgusting.

“Have Your Say on Benefits

“We’re interested in what your think about benefits. That’s why we’re asking you whether or not you support two fundamental principles upon which our welfare policies are founded – many will say they don’t but many will also be in favour. Your responses will tell us what the majority think.

“Please also leave your comments.”

Here’s the first question. Remember what I said at the top, about the way the writers manipulate the wording of these things:

“Should benefits increase more than wages?”

See what I mean? The only possible answer to that is “No” – because they shouldn’t! That doesn’t mean that Tory welfare policy is right, though. It means employers aren’t paying their workers well enough (as proven by my own experience). Next question:

“Do you think it’s fair that people can claim more in benefits that (sic) the average family earns through going to work?” Again, the only reasonable answer is “No” – but again it doesn’t mean Tory welfare policy is right. It means this question – like the first – has been carefully worded to prevent anyone responding from giving an unwanted answer.

Never mind – there’s a box for comments, in which respondents may explain their answers. Here’s what I wrote:

“Your questions are slanted to produce a particular set of answers, I notice. My answer to the first is that they should increase in line with inflation. Wages should do that as well. The simple fact is that the majority of employers in this country seem to see fit to fill their own pockets with cash while depriving their workers. It is THIS imbalance that needs to be redressed. Company bosses have given themselves generous pay rises totalling 700 per cent over the last 20 years, while employees’ wages have risen by an average of just 27 per cent in the same period. That is completely unfair – and the reason it is possible for people on benefits to make more money than the average family earns by going to work.

“You don’t make work pay by cutting benefits to the point where people can’t afford the necessities of life – you do it by actually paying people in work enough money to make doing their job worthwhile.

“I don’t think it’s fair for people in benefits to have more money than the average family earns through work, but the answer is not to cut benefits; you must stop the ruthless exploitation of working people by fatcat business bosses. It isn’t rocket science. It’s common sense.”

I pressed the ‘submit’ button and immediately saw this message, in red:

“How do you think we could make the benefits system fairer? must have at least 0 and no more than 300 characters.”

Apparently they wanted an answer only a little longer than a tweet. In other words, one in which it is impossible to present a reasoned argument.

I tried again:

“Your questions are slanted to produce biased answers. Benefits should increase with inflation. Employers have increased their pay by 700% in the last 20 years; employee pay has increased by 27%. It is THIS imbalance that needs to be redressed. You don’t make work pay by cutting benefits – you do it by paying working people fairly. It isn’t rocket science. It’s common sense.”

It was still a little too long but I managed to shave a few bits off.

Sadly (for the truth), I don’t think it matters. It’s the headline figure – the number of people who answered “No” to the two questions – that will give the Tories what they want.

No doubt they hope to delude huge swathes of the voting population with their results.

That’s why I’m publishing my response – in full – in this article.

Please visit the site and see it for yourselves. Then – if you’re as disgusted as I am – make your opinion as public as you can.

Hunter S Thompson once said of Richard Nixon that he was so twisted he needed help to screw himself into his trousers every morning. That could also be said of the Conservative Party.

Let’s make sure they can’t screw the facts.

These people are an obscenity.

36 thoughts on “Screwing the facts: Tory website bid to manipulate views on welfare

  1. janet renwick

    I, too, saw this. The only way to leave a comment was to answer the totally biased questions. If the Con/dem government cannot even allow their own followers to answer unbiased and honest questions then what chance have the rest of us of ever being listened to. Obviously the results of this will be triumphantly waved in our faces to show that the ‘Government’ is ‘in touch’ with population. This is evil and designed to split the population and take sympathy away from the people most in need.

  2. Grocky Groc

    very well put. My response when I read their site was a blustering frothing rage at the blatant ingeniousness of it all.
    It’s the hallmark of a Tory that they flatter themselves with thinking they’re a lot cleverer than they actually are… (which is partly why they keep getting caught out with their fraudulent expense claims – wait, I’ll extend that to most MPs whatever their party.)

  3. peternicholls

    I noticed the 300 character limit too. My effort wouldn’t fit either….

    “What sort of questionnaire is this? These are clearly loaded closed questions. I think benefits should rise inline with prices BECAUSE people on benefits are mostly on the breadline as it is. People on wages generally can negotiate, or at least have some sort of buffer. But let us not forget that hard working families ARE on benefits, getting tax credits to supplement the wages pushed down by the current system of capitalism. This isn’t the fair conservatism I believe you were espousing in when you took office. As for ‘improving’, you can start by acknowledging that most people on benefits are very much in need of them due to these incredibly low wages, being made unemployed, or being sick or disabled. I have become so disenfranchised by the parties change of heart since coming in to power, and what for? Because of money. ”

    The really FUNNY [not] bit was the claim that borrowing was going down, when I heard the chancellor live on BBC News say that it was going up for the next 3 years by about 10 percentage points….

  4. archigil2

    Why are an unelected government being allowed to torment and torture the sick and disabled in society the very people who cant fight back? The suicide rate is now at 73 a week because of welfare reforms by stating via ATOS that they are “fit for work” when in reality they aren’t. They cant sogn on so lose out on money,housing benefit and other benefits so they are made homeless! This cant go on and a report to the Court of human rights should be made NOW!

    1. shiron


  5. AtlantisHealing

    The most hilarious and bullshit ridden part is this: “If the Government continued to increase benefits at a higher rate than salaries, this would not be fair on working people. The same working people who pay the taxes which fund the benefits to begin with.” ALL income tax goes towards paying off the countries debt not funding the benefit system.

  6. Joanna Terry

    I also filled it in and told them that weighting the question would not fool everyone. I also told them that if they really wanted to help they could give us a general election. They are lower than vermin and I like rats.

  7. jaynel62

    I answered YES because it is it deserved silly answers for silly questions, also pointed out it was not a survey but a poor marketing exercise but a good example of how they operate and why we are entering a triple recession

  8. Silver

    This Questionnaire is obviously aimed at Sun,and Daily Heil readers.They would find the questions difficult,so Tory High Command as to simplify things for them.LOL.

    BTW,it goes hand in hand with Propaganda Smiths,Propaganda Machine.

  9. BOB

    I had the same experience. I was going to suggest sending all these replies by email to Conservative home – but surprise! They don’t have a way of contacting them! However, you could send them to Conservative Policy Forum stating that they are in reply to their survey and explicitly requesting an acknowledgement that they have received them and that they will take then into account. Form here –

    1. Lisa Storm

      You get a hold of NBC’S Chris Hanson or other Investigative Reporters they’ll find a way to Contact them,, those Dirty Low Life Pricks,, all those pukes in goverment never have any problems, cause them all take everything from poor ppl that r disabled, do they care no they make it worse for ppl to live, but me bet their health benifits and fancy cars and nice houses they have from ripping off the poor ppl is never affected, none of them know what its like to be poor,

  10. Susan

    Its worth going there and answering the questions – 1. Should benefits increase more than wages?” well clearly YES because benefits need to keep up with inflation as they were calculated to give just enough to manage on in the first place. Question 2.“Do you think it’s fair that people can claim more in benefits that (sic) the average family earns through going to work?” the answer is clearly YES because the tiny handful of families in the UK that are actually in this situation are in great need and living in expensive parts of the UK.

  11. EdinburghEye

    I answered “Yes” and “Yes” (if they ask leading questions, they should expect leading answers) and then (with a little thought) composed an under-300-characters quick sketch of my advice:

    “Mandate a living wage: end workfare & other anti-employment practices: build enough council houses for everyone to have somewhere to live: fund welfare programmes to support the unemployed, disabled, and ill – the basic infrastructure of a civilised state.”

    I’ll add the link to the Conservative policy forum to my blog post about it.

  12. MarinaS (@marstrina)

    If wages are rising less than inflation, then it *is* fair for benefits to rise more than wages. Apart from the rank evil of the government competing with private employers on who can be meaner, the majority of benefits got to working people anyway; so if their wages are shrinking, rising benefits (or business subsidies, we I like to call them) are one of the built in stabilisers.

    Anyway, I answered “yes”, “yes”, and “you can start by not asking leaded & unfair questions”…

  13. Mike Sivier

    I have to say, some of these responses are excellent – I particularly like those from Susan, EdinburghEye and MarinaS, – with MarinaS’s point about built-in stabilisers being particularly excellent.
    I wish I’d thought of those arguments; I’m glad you did.

  14. NorthernFlower

    I responded with two ‘yes’ responses, and then the following comment:

    “Surveys shouldn’t include leading/loaded questions which are designed to elicit a ‘no’ response. This survey is meaningless aside from as a propaganda exercise.”

    Since the survey required an email address to be left, I gave them this: [email protected]

  15. edwinmandella

    We are building a website to support our e-petition. I would very much like to post this article on our website as reference material. Will you give me permission to do that, please?

  16. shiron

    one way of culling society, by starting with the sick and vunerable. Silent mass genocide ring any bells?

  17. Jo Taylor

    I sent Schapps’ twitter account (over several tweets)explaining what I thought of the so-called survey and what I thought of the Government blaming those on benefits and not focusing on those avoiding tax.
    I suggest everyone does the same.

  18. Jon Stone

    It’s not spoiling the survey to answer yes.

    I answered ‘yes’ to both, because you could happily increase benefits by two or threefold and they still wouldn’t come anywhere near the average income, and because, yes, it is fair that some people can claim more benefits than the average working family eanrs, if it’s proven that they need those benefits in order to survive day-to-day, say if they need money for specialist medical equipment. It only becomes unfair if people on benefits are left with more *disposable* income than working families, which they sure as hell aren’t.

    My comment was a suggestion for a citizens’ wage – a rock solid foundation of income beneath which no one could fall, but which anyone could build on – and for disability benefits to be assessed solely by a trained medical professional.

  19. Paul Kinnear

    Where’s ANONYMOUS when you need them?? They could bomb this site with multiple “Yes” answers to both questions… wouldn’t that be delicious?

  20. Lorraine

    Yes and Yes and then told them to make benefits fairer to link them to ftse100 executive pay or alternatively equate government ministers pay and expenses to the same amount as benefits -10% for all the damage they have done until their performance improves.

  21. david pearce

    I also noticed the 300 word max 🙁 after I’d written a long diatribe about cutting MP and top civil servant pay along with ALL top public sector pay (ie hospital chief execs haven’t taken the same hit as their staff and get expenses on top. I also mentioned the waste of money being spent on private companies to ‘save’ million but that are actually costing billion. Can’t remmeber what else I had to cut out

  22. Aldo

    I replied Yes & Yes with the comment of “Benefit levels are so far below average family earnings that it would take a massive increase to bring them up to that level. Average family wage levels are high as they include the extremely high wages of MPs, company chief executives and bankers.”

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