Crocodile tears: Everybody thought Iain Duncan Smith had a change of heart at Easterhouse and intended to help people. Instead, under his direction, the Department for Work and Pensions has caused the deaths of thousands upon thousands of innocent people.
The Department for Work and Pensions reckons that the rise of food banks has more to do with Christian evangelism than with helping people who can’t afford food because of Conservative government policies.
According to Political Scrapbook, DWP director Neil Couling said: “For the Trussell Trust, food banks started as an evangelical device to get religious groups in touch with their local communities.”
Has Mr Couling forgotten Iain Duncan Smith’s ‘Road to Damascus’ moment on the housing estates of Easterhouse and Gallowgates in Glasgow in 2002?
Struck by the run-down housing, visible signs of drug abuse and general lack of hope, Roman Catholic Duncan Smith set out – with evangelical zeal – to do something about it.
He now sits in a government that kicks people out of their run-down houses and turns the lack of hope into abject despair by cutting off the benefits they need to survive (his government has pushed wages even further below the amount necessary for people to be able to live without government assistance than ever before).
So, really, who do you think is misusing the plight of the very poor as an “evangelical device” for his own “quasireligious” ends?
Couling’s attitude defies belief. He refers to a report from Oxfam – one of Britain’s most highly-respected anti-poverty charities – together with Church Action on Poverty and the Trussell Trust, as “unverified figures from disparate sources”.
Okay, then. How about the DWP supplying us with all the figures it collects, and we’ll do the working-out?
We can start with the deaths of people receiving incapacity benefits.
Still poor despite the statistics: IDS and his DWP spin-doctors need to get something clear – children haven’t stopped becoming poor, just because of a skewed set of statistics. Incomes have dropped – meaning MORE children are in poverty than before.
According to a TUC report, average wages have dropped by 7.5 per cent since the Coalition came into office. This has a direct impact on child poverty statistics, which the government has conveniently ignored in its latest, Iain Duncan Smith-endorsed, child poverty figures.
Child poverty is calculated in relation to median incomes – the average income earned by people in the UK. If incomes drop, so does the number of children deemed to be in poverty, even though – in fact – more families are struggling to make ends meet with less money to do so.
This is why the Department for Work and Pensions has been able to trumpet an announcement that child poverty in workless families has dropped, even though we can all see that this is nonsense. As average incomes drop, the amount received by workless families – taken as an average of what’s left – appears to rise, even though, as we know, the increase is not even keeping up with inflation any more.
The problem lies in proving it.
Let’s do a rough calculation. In 2007-8, Jobseekers’ Allowance for a couple with at least one person over 18 was £92.80 per week (£4,839 per year). It is now £111.45 per week (5,811 per year) – an increase of 20 per cent in real money (not inflation-adjusted). In the same period, average earnings for those in employment rose from £26,020 per year (according to the Office for National Statistics’ Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE)) to £26,500 – the figure we all know from the government’s calculation of its benefit cap). That’s an increase of just 1.8 per cent.
This doesn’t mean unemployed people are receiving too much – it means wages are being pushed down, as the TUC report shows. They are only ‘scratch’ figures – accurate data was impossible to find on the Internet this morning – but they show that JSA as a percentage of average wages has risen from 18.6 per cent to 21.9 per cent (roughly).
So workless income has risen in relation to the national average, meaning that child poverty in this sector appears to have dropped.
Alternatively, you could just use your common sense: People on benefit are not well-off, especially under a Conservative or Tory-led government.
What this means is that the DWP’s press release about child poverty is utterly worthless. Let’s look at it anyway. It says:
“New annual poverty statistics (households below average income) out today, show how the number of children in workless poor families has reduced by 100,000 children over the past year (a two percentage point reduction).” While correct within its frame of reference, in comparison with previous income averages, this must be wrong.
“The statistics for relative poverty – the most commonly used poverty line – also show that the most vulnerable groups have been protected as pensioner poverty fell by 100,000, disability poverty by 100,000 and child poverty stayed the same.” Wrong.
“The number of children in absolute child poverty has increased by 300,000.” Wrong.
“Work remains the best route out poverty – these statistics show how children in workless households are around three times more likely to be in poverty than those in working families.” Absolutely wrong!
How can the last claim be correct? If the number of children in workless poor families has dropped by 100,000 but the total in poverty has risen by 300,000, that’s an extra 400,000 children belonging to working families who have fallen into poverty – by this government’s own figures!
Out comes Iain Duncan Smith with his latest lie: “We have successfully protected the poorest from falling behind and seen a reduction of 100,000 children in workless poor families.” Shockingly wrong!
Let’s get some sanity from the Huffington Post and Metro: “Some 2.3 million children were recorded as living in relative poverty between 2011 and 2012, in official government statistics,” the HuffPost reported. Interestingly, this compares with a Metro report claiming 3.8 million were in ‘absolute’ poverty (which is a statistical measurement, not a statement about how poor they actually are). Metro goes on to say this means more than one in six children are in relative poverty.
“Two out of three children living in poverty, 66 per cent, are now from working families. This has risen from 43 per cent in 1996-1997 and and amounts to 1.5 million children, according to analysis of the figures by the Resolution Foundation,” says the HuffPost.
“The proportion of children in poverty from working families has risen sharply since the start of the financial crisis in 2008.” In other words, Iain Duncan Smith and the DWP have lied again.
“Poverty is calculated by households living with less than 60 per cent of median average disposable income, compiled by the Department for Work and Pensions. But statistics have been skewed because of the fall in wages. If the number was calculated using average household income from the previous year, the number of children in poverty rises by 300,000.” This confirms the argument I am putting forward.
Oxfam and Barnardo’s have both criticised the government over the figures.
And Fiona Weir, chief executive of single-parent charity Gingerbread, said in the HuffPost: “Government claims that work is the best route out of poverty are simply not ringing true.”
The Government has a legal responsibility, under the Child Poverty Act of 2010 (passed by Gordon Brown’s Labour government), to reduce relative child poverty to below 10 per cent by 2020.
While Iain Duncan Smith has expressed frustration with the current method of defining poverty, it seems his government is determined to achieve that target by reducing incomes so much that nobody will be in ‘relative’ poverty…
… but across the nation’s working people, real poverty will be absolute.
It’s a whopper: How big do you think Iain Duncan Smith’s next Parliamentary exaggeration of the truth will be?
Why is Iain Duncan Smith still a member of Parliament?
Apparently there is an offence, here in the UK, known as Contempt of Parliament. An MP is guilty of this if he or she deliberately misleads Parliament, and any MP accused of the offence may be suspended or expelled.
Our odious Work and Pensions secretary is a repeat offender. It is one thing to be “economical with the truth”, as the euphemism goes; it is entirely different to present known falsehoods to the House of Commons as though they were accurate.
Smith’s latest wheeze involves a press release released by his Department of Work and Pensions last month, in which he is quoted as follows: “Already we’ve seen 8,000 people who would have been affected by the [benefits] cap move into jobs. This clearly demonstrates that the cap is having the desired impact.”
There is no evidence to support the claim. This has been made clear by Andrew Dilnot, chair of the UK Statistics Authority, who said in an open letter yesterday (Thursday) that it was “unsupported by the official statistics published by the department”.
He added that an explicit caution had made it clear that the statistics used by Smith to support his claim were “not intended to show the additional numbers entering work as a direct result of the contact”.
In addition, figures released alongside the statement do not comply with the UK’s codes and practices on statistical releases, and concerns have been raised about the methodology and sourcing, along with possible advance sharing of the data with some – sympathetic? – media outlets.
As an aside, it seems unlikely that Mr Dilnot realised, when he accepted his role at the statistics authority, that it would be such a high-profile role. How many people had even heard of it before the Tory-led Coalition government came into power? Precious few, one suspects.
Yet it has now become a household name, due to the Tories’ continued and persistent use of faked statistics.
They claimed the NHS budget was rising when it had fallen – and only yesterday we saw one consequence of this; the critical strain facing accident and emergency units. Remember, many hospitals are having their A&E units closed, adding to the strain on those that are left. Why is this happening, if not to save money?
They also claimed – in a party political broadcast, no less – that the national debt was falling when in fact it has risen massively over the course of this Parliament.
And now this.
Smith is, as mentioned above, a repeat offender: He also stated recently that around a million people have been stuck on benefits for at least three of the last four years, “despite being judged capable of preparing or looking for work”. These figures were, of course, inaccurate – they included single mothers, the seriously ill, and people awaiting testing.
Oxfam’s Katherine Trebeck, policy and advocacy manager for its UK poverty programme, said in The Mirror that this was “beyond the pale”.
She said: “The vast majority of people who are out of work would jump at the chance to take a job that paid them a wage they can afford to live on.”
And the TUC’s general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said in The Guardian: “Only people with weak arguments need to make up statistics.
“The secretary of state needs to apologise – not just to Parliament, but to the many who cannot find jobs, for misusing his department’s statistics in this way.”
The DWP has issued a statement supporting Smith, but its argument is extremely weak. It said anecdotal responses of staff and claimants supported what he had said: “DWP staff and claimants are telling us the cap is impacting behaviour and leading to those affected finally entering the world of work.”
Anecdotal evidence is not fact and cannot be presented as such. Our good friend Wikipedia describes it in these terms: “Because of the small sample, there is a larger chance that it may be unreliable due to cherry-picked or otherwise non-representative samples of typical cases.Anecdotal evidence is considered dubious support of a claim; it is accepted only in lieu of more solid evidence. This is true regardless of the veracity of individual claims.“
Manipulation of statistics by the DWP and its secretary of state prompted Debbie Sayers and fellow blogger Jayne Linney – who has supported Vox Political articles many times – to launch a petition on the change.org website, calling on Parliament’s Work and Pensions Committee to hold Smith to account for his habitual offences against government statistics.
The petition is here, and at the time of writing has more than 76,500 signatures. Please sign it if you haven’t already done so.
It’s time for Iain Duncan Smith – who remains, let’s all remember, Vox Political‘s Monster of the Year for 2012 – to put up or shut up. He must either admit that he lied to Parliament and to the people in order to justify his despicable treatment of the most vulnerable people in the country…
… or he must be expelled from Parliament like the disgrace that he is.
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