Benefit Cap Bullshit

Iain Duncan Smith got himself into bother a while back when he claimed DWP research showed that as a result of the benefit cap being announced, 8,000 people who would be affected by it have found work. The UK Statistics Authority disagreed however saying the claim “is unsupported by the official statistics…“. When finally challenged about this on the Today programme this morning, this exchange followed (JH is John Humphrys):

JH: “The problem is that you made claims about how things were changing on the basis of the trials that were being carried out and all the rest of it, and they turned out not to be well-founded. You said we’ve seen already, already you said, this is a statement you made in May, already we’ve seen 8,000 people who would have been affected by the cap move into jobs. But when the National Statistics Authority looked at that, they said ‘not true’.”

IDS: “No, what they said was that you can’t absolutely prove that those two things are connected.”

JH: “Your statement is unsupported by the official statistics published by your own department.”

IDS: “Yes but by the way, you can’t disprove what I said either. The reality is [interruption] no, no, no, let me finish. There’s an answer.”

JH: “You can make any claim on that basis.”

IDS: “I am, I believe that this to be right. I believe that we are already seeing people go back to work, who were not going to go back to work until they were assured of the cap. Look we just published some polling today, John, on this very group.”

JH: “Polling isn’t statistics.”

IDS: “Hold on let me just give you this. We polled and we found that something like 72% of those who report have been very infrequently in work in the past since being notified by the cap have gone back to work. I believe that this will show, as we go forward, that people who were not seeking work are now seeking work because that’s the way to avoid the cap.”

So first IDS says don’t worry about the evidence, because he believes it’s true, but then cites new research which he claims also supports his assertions. Does it though? Here is the report IDS cited this morning. Ipsos Mori undertook telephone interviews with 500 of the 8,000 people who had found work since the announcement of the benefit cap to try to show that people had been motivated by the cap to find work.

The problem is that they did not find that. Remember, IDS originally tried to claim that all 8,000 had moved into work because of the benefit cap. The survey found though that 15% of them hadn’t even heard of the benefit cap, and another 31% only knew a little about it. Only 57% remembered being informed that the cap would affect them, and of these, 71% were already looking for work.

About half of those who remembered getting a letter about the cap took action afterwards. For 31%, this meant looking for work (although half of these were already looking). This means of the 500 surveyed, only around 45 people started looking for work because of the cap that weren’t doing so before. 45!!

Looking at the results then, and if we assume the survey was representative of all 8,000 people, far from being able to say all 8,000 found work as a direct result of the cap, the best that can be said in reality is that about 720 people started looking for work and found it after hearing of the cap that weren’t looking before. Not a particularly impressive behavioral change. On IDS once again, we must call BULLSHIT!

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11 thoughts on “Benefit Cap Bullshit

  1. It really is time there was parliamentary sanction for misuse of official statistics. The ONS should be reporting figures collected on behalf of the Crown, or Parliament – much as the National Audit Office is independent of government.

  2. In fairness, I think your extrapolated figure should be 720 rather than 360. 500 people is 1/16 of 8,000, so you need to multiply your 45 jobseekers by 16 – that’s 720. Still a pitifully small amount.
    Now the DWP has upped the figure to 12,000 and I’ve asked the UK Statistics Authority to check the veracity of this claim.

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