No. No they are not, writes Alex Little. And he’s correct.
The ONS provide a full explanation of how they come up with the numbers. They are compiled via the Labour Force Survey, which adheres to international definitions of employment and unemployment. There is a lot more information contained in the link above, but the TL/DR version is they ask a lot of people – enough people to be able to make strong estimates for the whole economy – questions about their employment status. The results are then reported as the official numbers. They take account of people taking part in workfare-style schemes and people who have been sanctioned off JSA.
But the findings of the Oxford University/London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine report that supports claims that “punitive use of sanctions is driving people away from social support” do not suggest otherwise.
The report has this to say: “Studies have shown that individuals who are sanctioned and end up disconnected from work and welfare have lower human capital and other disadvantages that suggest they would face barriers to complying with the extensive conditions for receiving unemployment benefits.
“The conditions for receiving unemployment benefit have become increasingly demanding in the UK. The frequent interview requirements and required hours of job search activity likely make it difficult for those with restricted access to transportation, a computer, and a mobile phone, and those with young children to meet requirements.
“Similarly, the rise in individuals receiving sanctions for failure to participate in the Work Programme has raised concern that current processes for evaluating the needs of benefit claimants are inadequate, potentially resulting in inappropriate placements.
“It is also possible that people choose to abandon a welfare system that they find de-humanising. In one widely publicised case, a man who made redundant was forced to go back to the same company, only to work for free under conditions of a community work placement.”
Considering the stated methodology of the ONS and the disadvantages suffered by those who have been driven away (according to the Oxford/London report), it seems entirely likely that the ONS never came in contact with anyone who was affected in this manner.
Therefore both the ONS and the Oxford/London report can be correct and there is no need to suggest ‘gaming’ of the figures or a conspiracy of any kind between the ONS and the Department for Work and Pensions. In fact it seems odd that anybody would suggest such a thing.
There does, however, seem to be a large number of people for whom the official figures cannot account, who are no longer claiming benefit but do not appear as part of the increase in employees or the self-employed, and no attempt has been made to account for this (to clarify – this is what others have reported elsewhere in the social media, and that’s why it can only be reported here that this seems to be the case).
Who’s to blame for this discrepancy, if not the government that sets the current rules for receipt of benefits?
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