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Let’s be honest about this: The government hasn’t messed up by omitting Universal Credit claimants from the official unemployment benefit claimant count – the Department for Work and Pensions messed up by admitting this had happened.
It means we may be looking at a long-term attempt to defraud the electorate. The plan seems clear: When the general election finally takes place next year, Iain Duncan Smith would have claimed that his policies have been a brilliant success in creating jobs and cutting down the number of people claiming benefits.
If people are convinced that the DWP has succeeded in cutting the amount of money being paid out in benefits – the burden on the taxpayer – then they are more likely to vote for the Conservatives. Electoral victory means more money for everybody involved – what’s known as a pecuniary advantage.
But the claim has been made by deception. Obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception is the dictionary definition of criminal fraud.
There can be no doubt that the omission was deliberate. When it comes to fiddling the official figures, the DWP has ‘form’ going back for years. Look at the lies about the benefit cap pushing people into work; the way people on ESA were encouraged to say they were self-employed and claim tax credits – even though this is not permitted and they were racking up a huge overpayment.
Look at the abuses of the sanction system; look at the abuses of the IB/ESA work capability assessment; look at the number of successful appeals against the DWP that have been kept out of official figures.
The claimant count, which provides the headline unemployment figure, is the number of people claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance every month – and has been for many years.
But Iain Duncan Smith’s flagship (if the ship was the Titanic) Universal Credit is up and running – on an extremely limited basis – in certain pilot areas of the country, and people without a job in those areas should be included in the claimant count.
This has not happened. It is possible that this is yet another oversight by Mr Duncan Smith, the government’s top bungler (indeed, he was recently voted favourite cabinet minister by ConservativeHome, so he must be doing something right, and the thing he does most often is make mistakes).
Mr Duncan Smith himself would disagree, however. He has claimed repeatedly and vehemently that his department does not make mistakes with statistics; that everything done on his watch has been justified and that everybody at the DWP is entirely competent.
So we must accept that there was a decision to keep Universal Credit claimants out of the claimant count, meaning that there was a decision to make it seem there are fewer people unemployed than is actually the case.
This seems to be supported by the complaint from the Office for National Statistics, which publishes unemployment figures. The wording runs as follows: “The DWP have not been able to supply ONS with this information in a way that has allowed its inclusion within the Claimant Count [italics mine], resulting in the exclusion of UC claims from this measure.”
This implies that the DWP is perfectly capable of supplying the figures in a manageable way but has deliberately done otherwise.
Further indication that DWP officials knew exactly what they were doing comes from a spokeswoman’s response to this affair, published in the Daily Mirror: “We have been fully transparent in publishing the number of people claiming Universal Credit.
“To ensure consistency the Department released these figures alongside the employment statistics. Universal Credit is both an in- and out-of-work benefit so some claimants may be working.”
In that case, the DWP cannot have been “fully transparent”, can it? Transparency would have required the department to separate UC into “in-work” and “out-of-work” claims, and we have no evidence that this has happened. Until it does, neither the ONS nor the rest of us have any way of knowing how many people are unemployed in the UK.
This has been going on for nearly a year, as Universal Credit was rolled out in its first pilot area in April last year. This means that all unemployment statistics since then have been falsified by the DWP and unemployment figures have been higher than claimed.
The Labour Party has tried to paint this as incompetence, but it is wrong to do so.
This was deliberate, premeditated disinformation.
Now the deception has been uncovered, they are unrepentant.
Perhaps someone should remind them that fraud is still a crime.
Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike
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