8,500 people have now started on Universal Credit, we’re over 1% of the way there!

Today the DWP released some statistics that show that during the period of rollout for Universal Credit which began in April 2013 and up to 31st May this year, only 8,500 people had started on the new benefit. Universal Credit is supposed to replace 6 existing benefits and tax credits with a single monthly payment. In principal not the worst idea ever; in the hands of Iain Duncan Smith, a total effing disaster. The target is to get 4.5 million households on the new benefit by 2017, but at current rates of rollout, the process should be complete sometime in 2540. It seems unlikely IDS will  still be around by then!

Meanwhile, Duncan Smith remains in denial, claiming everything is going to plan, and the glacially slow rollout is due to his own desire to see the programme rolled out gradually. He believes!

View image on Twitter

Iain Duncan Smith: High immigration caused by Brits not taking jobs

The Independent reports that Iain Duncan Smith is due to make a speech today in which he will claim that immigration to the UK is high because social security claimants are refusing to take jobs in order to remain on benefits. It quotes from his speech:

“Businesses needed the labour and because of the way our benefit system was constructed, too few of the economically inactive took the jobs on offer.”

So as well as being responsible for the deficit and the national debt, out of work claimants are now to blame for immigration as well!

The best #IDS #reshuffle Tweets

Despite rumours last week (repeated here) that Iain Duncan Smith was to be moved in David Cameron’s reshuffle, he seems to have clung on. Many on Twitter reacted with disbelief. Here are some of the best Tweets I found on the subject:


The Tory Party’s dodgy use of stats

At PMQs today, Ed Miliband questioned David Cameron on the NHS. In response to a wuestion on the 18 week target, Cameron claimed the number waiting 18 weeks had fallen since the election. Labour disagreed, saying the number had risen. Labour seem to be correct and Cameron wrong.

It’s not the first time the Tories have been caught out using dodgy stats (although Labour aren’t immune either). Here are some other instances courtesy of a comment I saw on the Guardian website:

1. Grant Shapps claims that “nearly a million people” (878,300) on incapacity benefit had dropped their claims, rather than face a new medical assessment for its successor, the employment and support allowance.

2. David Cameron falsely states in a Conservative Party political broadcast that the coalition “was paying down Britain’s debts”.

3. David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt rebuked by the Government’s own statistics watchdog yesterday for claiming that spending on the NHS had risen in real terms in recent years.

4. Boris Johnson rebuked over use of dodgy crime statistics

5. Iain Duncan Smith rebuked over immigration statistics

6. Statistics head Andrew Dilnot says a Treasury graph on infrastructure left readers with “a false impression of the relative size of investment between sectors”

7. Iain Duncan Smith rebuked for falsely claiming the coalition’s controversial benefits cap had already caused 8,000 people to move into jobs.

From this list we can conclude two things:

1. Sub-editors like using the word “rebuked”

2. Cameron’s error today was not an isolated incident

Now all parties spin stats in a way they think best suits their argument, so what’s the problem you might think? Well, if we are going to argue over whether a particular policy is working or not, it is essential to agree on some basic facts. If we can’t even do that, a proper evaluation of the policy is impossible. It also leads to a general mistrust of statistics to the extent that no figures (regardless or the source) are believed, whether they be on unemployment, crime or immigration.



Are cuts to social security moral?

A lot of people would answer no straight away to this question, but stay with me. I’ve just started reading George Lakoff’s “Don’t think of an Elephant!” which is about how people view the world through different ‘frames’ and how political parties seek to exploit these frames in their political messaging. Lakoff’s central thesis is that those with a conservative world view frame things from the point of view of a strict father figure, while those of a more liberal persuasion frame the world from the point of view of a ‘nurturant parent family’.

So what is meant by the strict father figure frame? Lakoff explains:

“In this model there is also a definition of what it means to become a good person. A good person – a moral person – is someone who is disciplined enough to be obedient, to learn what is right, do what is right and not do what is wrong, and to pursue her self-interest to prosper and become self-reliant. A good child grows up to be like that. A bad child is one who does not learn discipline, does not function morally, does not do what is right, and therefore is not disciplined enough to become prosperous.She cannot take care of herself, and thus becomes dependent.”

To bring it back to the title of the blog then, for those who view the world though the strict father frame (a conservative viewpoint), cutting social security is a moral position, because a Lakoff also writes:

“Consider what this all means for social programs. It is immoral to give people things they have not earned, because then they will not develop discipline and will become both dependent and immoral. This theory says that social programs are immoral because they make people dependent. Promoting social programs is immoral.”

This strikes me a quite a good description of the language Tories like IDS use when discussing social security. They talk about ‘welfare dependency’ as though it’s a great societal evil, and separate people into those who are deserving of help and those who aren’t. They talk about people who ‘want to work hard and get on’. The Tories are for these people. This all implies that if people have the discipline and drive to succeed, then succeed they will. Any failure to do so must be down to the personal failings of the individual. I think this last point was quite eloquently dismissed in a blog by Jack Monroe todaybut it is an idea that many people undoubtedly subscribe to, and the right are extremely proficient in pushing these kinds of messages, while the left are poor at pushing their own. Witness Labour’s almost total inability to defend the welfare state and it’s acceptance of this strict father framing.

I suppose my point then is that a lot of people seem to assume the cuts to social security are because the Tories are evil, or because they want to shift resources from poor to rich. Maybe there are elements of that, but I think for politicians like IDS, they genuinely do believe what they are doing is morally right. The left need to accept that a lot of people agree with him and come up with strategies to reframe the debate.

Out-Goving Gove, IDS in Apology Shocker and Stupid Back-Bench MPs

Here’s my weekly round-up of links from the last week that caught my eye.

First up education, and the news that Labour spokesman Tristram Hunt wants to introduce licenses for teachers. Some teachers respond:

Tristram Hunt has out-Goved Gove

Iain Duncan Smith news now. It transpires that a few thousand people (IDS says 5,000, others think more like 40,000) have been made to pay the bedroom tax even though they are actually exempt. IDS has now apologised (in the most grudging way possible) and it looks like some repayments may be made. Jules Birch gives full details here:

The Hardest Word

Onwards now, and some MMT-related stuff. I bang on about the job guarantee idea a lot here but this slideshow produced by the blogger Senexx is worth linking to:

What a Job Guarantee Is

Also worth a watch is this short video on Peter Martin’s blog:

How come that nearly everyone, gets it all wrong on money and the economy?

Here’s the promised stupid backbench MP news now, with the revelation that Tory MP Philip Davies (who’s also my MP) has been watching Benefits Street and so is now an expert on the problems with the welfare system. When I tweeted this link, someone replied that he also described incapacity benefits as unnecessary after watching the film “Cocoon”:

Shipley MP Philip Davies says benefits ‘too generous’ after watching Channel 4’s Benefits Street

And while we’re talking about Benefits Street, here’s a nice post from Chris Dillow it’s probably not reasonable to expect current affairs programs to be bias-free:

How current affairs reporting is inherently biased

That’s about it for this week, but I’ll leave you with this image someone tweeted the other day which sums up how I feel about the term ‘hardworking’.


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!

Why do people drop their claims for ESA before assessment?

This week, some of the Coalition’s nastier benefit reforms become live, and because of this, we were subject to the spectacle of both Iain Duncan Smith and Tory Party Chairman Grant Shapps taking to the airwaves to give their spin on the reforms. On Monday, IDS came under fire for stating that if he had to, he could live on £53 a week. This gave rise to the inevitable petition, which, at the time of writing has garnered almost 150,000 signatures.

Shapps’ ‘contribution’ to the debate involved pointing to DWP figures showing that 878,000 claimants of Employment and Support Allowance had ceased their claim before undergoing the Work Capability Assessment. Shapps heavily implied (and this slant was run with in many of the media stories, e.g. here) that these claims had stopped because people were not actually sick and knew they would fail the assessment. As with much of what Shapps say though, to get to the truth, you have to go to the source.

Figures about assessments for Employment and Support Allowance are released quarterly here. So what does it say about the reason why 878,000 have ceased their claims?

“Current data does not allow anything conclusive to be said about the destinations of closed and in progress cases, nor to infer what would have been or would be the outcome of assessment.”

So at best there seems to be no evidence about why they have ceased their claim, so Shapps inference seems baseless. But it gets even worse for Shapps because the same publication does refer to some qualitative work also published by the DWP that did look at the reasons why people ceased their claims. It said this:

Most of the interviewees in this research whose claim had been closed or withdrawn before it was fully assessed said they had ended their ESA claim as their health condition had improved. Examples of the types of conditions that had improved included diabetes, mental health problems, including stress and depression, and conditions alleviated by routine operations. These people tended to be working or looking for work, often in the same type of work as they had done before, though not commonly with the same employer.

Some had proactively withdrawn their claim, informing Jobcentre Plus of this, while others simply stopped submitting medical certificates or did not return their ESA50, in the knowledge this would prompt Jobcentre Plus to close their claim. Nobody interviewed consciously ignored an invite to a WCA as a means of closing their claim.

A smaller number of customers had their claim closed by Jobcentre Plus because they had difficulty completing and returning the ESA50, submitting medical certificates, or attending a WCA, even though they did not really want to end their claim. In some cases, this was because the customer’s condition made co-operating with the assessment process difficult, while in others, other life events, such as bereavement, made it difficult for them to progress their claim.”

So the evidence (allbeit based on interviews with a relatively small number of claimants) suggests people do not stop their claims for ESA because they are not genuine, but because their conditions improved (not surprisingly as the period between initial claim and assessment can take months) or worse, because the process of claiming was too arduous for them given their medical condition. Shapps’ interpretation of the data was just another lazy attempt to smear some of the least fortunate in society and to provide some cover for his Government’s shameful welfare policies.


Iain Duncan Smith sends a message to welfare claimants – “Know your place”. Sadly, it seems Labour agrees

After the courts ruled DWPs workfare regulations were illegal, Ian Duncan Smith quickly introduced new ones to ensure his spiteful and counter-productive welfare to work schemes could continue unabated. This still left his department open to claims for back-payment of benefits which had been stripped of claimants following them being sanctioned for “not doing enough to find work”. Reportedly, the claims could have amounted to as much as £130m, which assuming an average back-payment of £500, implies that as many as 260,000 people have had their benefits sanctioned illegally.

Rather than do the right thing after months and months of doing the wrong thing, IDS has decided to stick two fingers up to all those people who were given benefits sanctions unlawfully, and is introducing retroactive legislation to ensure DWP is no longer liable to repay any monies to claimants who suffered as a consequence of his department’s incompetence.

The reason given for doing this is to protect taxpayers and also to avoid further welfare cuts to make up the shortfall. This is false though, because we know that nearly every pound going to those at the bottom is spent, and every pound that is spent eventually comes back to the Treasury as tax. There would be no loss to the taxpayer.

No, the real reason for this legislation is to say to those on welfare: “Know your place. You will do what to tell you to do, no matter how unreasonable, and if you don’t like it just stop claiming. We don’t care if you find work or not, just stop being a burden. And don’t try to fight back, you will never win.”

The actions of Cait Reilly and others were heroic, and clearly got IDS rattled. The last thing he and the Government want to see is those at the bottom standing up for their rights and challenging what is being done to them in the name of deficit reduction. It sets a dangerous precedent, and so any means to shut it down becomes necessary, even the introduction of unprecedented emergency laws.

The most shameful part of this story seems to be that the Labour Party looks set to vote through this terrible bill on the nod. After all their bluster about condemning bedroom taxes and other welfare cuts, when it comes to the crunch, it seems like Labour are more than willing to line up behind the establishment and vote against those they were put in Parliament to represent. I hope I am wrong about this and Labour politicians have an attack of the conscience between now and the time of the vote, but I won’t hold my breath.

UPDATE: It now looks as though Labour might abstain in the vote on the legislation, which has the same effect as voting for it, so not a particularly bold move from the official opposition. Sitting on the fence will do nothing for those being screwed by this latest Government shambles.