This article was written by Polly Toynbee, for The Guardian on Tuesday 12th August 2014 05.00 UTC
Politicians may deal in terminological inexactitudes, but I can’t think of many black-is-white, war-is-peace practitioners as downright deceptive as Iain Duncan Smith.
Originally, the question was whether to put it down to simple stupidity, as he didn’t understand that the numbers he promised were impossible. Yesterday, poring over his big speech on welfare reform, a few of the more polite experts spoke of his “magical thinking”. But his motives and state of mind hardly matter to the millions affected by his evidence-free, faith-based policy-making.
The man does have indefatigable self-confidence: “We are fixing society,” he says. The Times, Sun, Mail and Telegraph happily swallowed it whole, rather than explore the thickets of his benefit system. His great claim is that his reforms have been the key driver in getting people back to work.
Let’s start with where he’s right: this recession has been unlike any other, as employment fell by far less and now grows by far more than economists can explain. Fraser Nelson, the Spectator editor, eagerly backed the view that IDS’s big stick has been the “game-changer”.
But Jonathan Portes, head of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, formerly Treasury and a Department for Work and Pensions economist, makes mincemeat of the claim. Comparing numbers with charts over time, he concludes: “The idea that those on JSA are getting a job more quickly than before the recession, let alone that welfare reform has anything to do with it, has no support in the data.”
When it comes to the sick on employment and support allowance, numbers fell steadily from 2004, rose a bit in the recession and were starting to fall on trend. But now they’re rising again. Why? Portes says it’s “the result of the administrative chaos surrounding the Atos contract for the work capability assessment”.
Duncan Smith takes credit for one of Labour’s successes: Labour raised the number of single mothers into work from 46% to 58%. He says it’s higher than ever now, which is true – but only up by 2 percentage points in his time. He hurls accusations at Labour’s welfare bill: welfare expert Declan Gaffney says Labour cut the bill and kept it stable as a proportion of GDP – until the crash. It peaked in 2012 on IDS’s watch.
His universal credit was due this April to cover a million people: so far it covers just 16,000 easy households with no children, writing off £130m in failed IT. But you would never guess when IDS says it “completes the cultural shift”. Rolling many benefits into one doesn’t magically simplify them: the online form, 50 pages long, still needs to record every changing detail of every member of the household in real time.
Better incentives? Donald Hirsch, economist for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, finds that on universal credit, families who work full-time can easily end up with less than if they worked part-time. Worse, it traps mothers at home: if one partner works, the second gains virtually nothing by taking a job. Nor does Duncan Smith say that 65p is cut from every extra pound earned. Raising income tax thresholds for the low-paid hardly applies to those on universal credit: most of the gain is lost as their benefit is cut back.
There are traps, hazards both moral and practical, in any benefit system. These deserve debate – but IDS prefers falsifications of reality. The bedroom tax, he says, is imperative. He doesn’t say that only 4% or 5% of people have moved as a result, the rest taking a huge hit, sending them to loan sharks and food banks. Nor does he tell of the doubling, by next year, of the number of working people drawing housing benefit, due to soaring rents and falling pay.
Take the disaster of his 20% cut and transfer of disability living allowance into personal independence payments (PIPs). Forced to delay existing cases to after the election, that’s a nasty gift of 3.6 million assessments for his successor. But worse, people applying now are held in a long backlog, often very sick.
Macmillan Cancer Support, campaigning hard about waits of over six months for benefits rulings, mentions one typical case: a 25-year-old father with advanced cancer waiting for PIP has almost no money. His wife has had to work while he cares for their baby. Without his PIP, he waits for carer’s allowance, severe disability premium, escape from the bedroom tax, bus pass, taxi cards to get to hospital and heating grant. Latest figures show only 24% of claims have been processed; the rest wait, and some claimants die waiting.
“There is a lot of misleading talk about sanctions,” Duncan Smith says. Indeed there is, by him. Any benefit system has to prevent fraud or idleness, but he must know how his Jobcentre Plus offices have become sanction factories, his staff under unbearable pressure to cut people off. Research by Inclusion finds an unprecedented gap between the number of unemployed and those drawing JSA – invisible people living on thin air.
Last week the Guardian reported the tragic death of a diabetic former soldier, sanctioned into starvation. Go to any food bank and you’ll find heartbreaking cases. Every week, my inbox tells of people struck off unjustly – the latest, Jim, was sent on a course by the jobcentre then struck off for not signing on, as if he could be in two places at once.
Tricks abound as staff are forced to hit targets called “spinning plates”. With George Osborne taking another £12bn cuts after 2015, it’s possible Duncan Smith doesn’t know the abominations he oversees.
> Oh, I’m sure he does know, and probably revels in it. After all, he kept his job in the recent reshuffle despite everybody knowing he is incompetent – he probably now believes he can do anything, without personal consequences.
Source – Welfare News Service, 12 Aug 2014
There will be hour upon hour of coverage on TV and in the press today and tomorrow about George Osborne’s budget, with Labour picking holes and the Tories and LibDems fighting for the ‘credit’ for the supposed recovery.
I’ve already listened to more than I can stomach of Osborne, Ken Clarke and others claiming that their ‘hard work’ and, of course, ‘tough choices’ (we’re all in it together, after all) have resulted in the supposed economic recovery, the fall in ‘worklessness’ (their attempted fudge after the UK Statistics Authority rapped their knuckles for claiming unemployment has fallen massively when in reality it’s dropped hardly at all or risen slightly, depending when you measure from) etc.
But the government’s own OBR (Office for Budget Responsibility) laid bare the truth in a single phrase. Speaking to journalists a few moments ago, and covered by BBC News (who so far have failed to…
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This article was written by Patrick Butler, for The Guardian on Tuesday 18th March 2014
MPs have criticised the Department for Work and Pensions for a series of rule breaches in which official statistics were used inaccurately, inappropriately, or to “spin” stories about benefit claimants.
The Commons work and pensions committee also criticised the DWP for shortcomings in the management of claims for Personal Independence Payments (PIP), a disability benefit that replaces the Disability Living Allowance, saying it was unacceptable claimants were having to wait six months or more to find out if they were eligible.
A report by the MPs warned the DWP to exercise care in the language used in its press releases and ministerial comments to ensure they do not feed into “negative preconceptions and prejudices about people on benefits”.
> exercise care in the language used in its press releases and ministerial comments to ensure they do not feed into “negative preconceptions and prejudices about people on benefits – as if they strayed into negative preconceptions by accident ! Its what they were designed to do. Where have these MPs been for the past few years ?
It cites examples in the past few months where the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) criticised the use of DWP statistics, including by the secretary of state, Iain Duncan Smith, and Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps.
Dame Anne Begg MP, the committee chair, said: “Statistics should be used to shed light on policy implementation, not to prop up established views or feed preconceptions.
“Government efforts to promote a positive image of disabled people will be undermined if the language used by DWP when communicating benefit statistics to the media feeds into negative perceptions and prejudices about benefit recipients, including disabled people.”
The committee said it had warned the government as early as 2011 to take more care over the way it presented information on benefits statistics to the media. Ministers had replied then by saying they had a “robust” system in place to ensure no abuses took place.
However, the committee notes in a report into DWP performance, published on Tuesday , that problems still remained and that the UKSA had reprimanded the department a number of times in 2013 for the way it handled welfare statistics.
In one case, the Conservative party had put out a press release which quoted party chair Grant Shapps citing DWP figures that purported to show nearly a million people had dropped their incapacity benefit claim rather than face a work capability test. The UKSA found that two sets of figures had been erroneously and misleadingly conflated.
Duncan Smith said he and his officials had not prepared one criticised Conservative party release, and he had had “conversations” with Shapps to ensure in future he checked with the department if he was going to say something about DWP statistics.
In a separate case, Duncan Smith was officially reprimanded for claiming that the threat of the benefit cap had directly persuaded 8,000 of claimants to get a job. This clearly demonstrated that the cap was working, he said. But the UKSA ruled that there was no statistical evidence to support this.
The DWP director of communications John Shield told MPs that Duncan Smith had the right to make clear his “opinion” on “what he thinks the data are saying”. But he admitted that on this occasion the DWP press office had been involved in the preparation of the secretary of state’s claims.
The committee report says government statistics should be presented fairly, accurately and unspun, “and this is especially the case when they are being used to justify a particular policy or a particular allocation of resources.”
Regarding delays in PIP, the report urges ministers to involve financial penalty clauses to force private contractors Atos and Capita to speed up the claims process.
Begg said: “Many disabled or sick people face waits of six months or more for a decision on their PIP eligibility. Even those with terminal illnesses are having to wait far longer than was anticipated. This not only leaves people facing financial difficulties whilst they await a decision, but causes severe stress and uncertainty. It is completely unacceptable.”
The committee’s findings echo a recent National Audit Office report, which concluded that the PIP programme suffered from “poor early operational performance” leading to long and uncertain delays for claimants.
A DWP spokesman said: “PIP is a completely new benefit with a new face-to-face assessment and regular reviews. In some cases this end-to-end claims process is taking longer than the old system of Disability Living Allowance, which relied on a self-assessment form.
“We are working with providers to ensure that all the steps in the process are as smooth as they can be and the benefit is backdated so no-one is left out of pocket.
“Claims for terminally ill people are fast-tracked and Macmillan has acknowledged that improvements in the system have already been made. Latest statistics show over 99% of people with terminal illnesses who have applied have been awarded the benefit, which means over 9,500 terminally ill claimants are now receiving PIP.”
Source – Welfare News Service, 18 March 2014
100 ? Tip of the iceberg !
Reposted from The Green Benches
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