Monday, 13 May 2013

Lies, Damned Lies and Tory Ministers

Duncan Smith

When Iain Duncan Jokeshop quoted 8,000 jobless being helped by his latest wheeze he was making it up. He has had his knuckles rapped for telling porkies by the Office for National Statistics. 

“Duncan Smith's belief that the welfare state holds down the very people it is meant to serve is pleasing to Conservative ears. To maintain his supporters' illusions, he has to lie. Last week, the UK Statistics Authority gave him a reprimand that broke from the genteel language of the civil service. The work and pensions secretary had claimed that his department's cap on benefits was turning scroungers into strivers – even before it had come into force. "Already we have seen 8,000 people who would have been affected by the cap move into jobs." How sweet those words must have sounded to Conservative ears. The government was forcing the feckless to stop sponging off hard-working taxpayers. (Taxpayers are always "hard working" in British politics, in case you haven't noticed. We never try to get by doing the bare minimum.)

The figures did not show that, the statistics authority said. More to the point, they could not possibly have shown that. Duncan Smith's claims were “unsupported” by the very statistics his department had collected.

If this were a one-off, I would say Duncan Smith "misspoke" or "lacked judgment" or, in plain English, that he was an idiot. If every politician who spun statistics were damned, after all, parliament would be empty. I would use stronger language; indeed,Andrew Dilnot, the chair of the statistics authority, is thinking about sending his inspectors into the Department for Work and Pensions because Duncan Smith is a habitual manipulator.

As journalists know, Duncan Smith's modus operandi is well established. His "people" – all of them scroungers, not strivers, who sponge off the taxpayer from their Whitehall offices – brief reporters with unpublished figures. The Tory press uses them, and, as the Financial Times explained, when his spin doctors meet an honest journalist, who asks hard questions, they end the call and never ring back. By the time the true figures appear on the DWP Website , and informed commentators can see the falsity, the spin, the old saying applies: "A lie is halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on."

Before the benefit cap, it was the work programme, which is meant to provide training for the unemployed. The statistics authority criticised the "coherence" of Duncan Smith's statistics and, once again, the manner in which his department presented them to the public. Far from being a success, the programme found work for a mere 8.6% of the desperate people who went on it. Meanwhile, Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research and a former chief economist at the Cabinet Office, has convincingly demonstrated that the Tory claim that "more than a third of people who were on incapacity benefit dropped their claims rather than complete a medical assessment" is false and demonstrably false.” Nick Cohen, Observer 12/5/13


The latest to find his claims hold less water than a colander is the disgraceful Gove, who made the following claim in the Sunday Wail. “"Survey after survey has revealed disturbing historical ignorance, with one teenager in five believing Winston Churchill was a fictional character while 58% think Sherlock Holmes was real."

This disturbed a retired teacher so much she used the Freedom of Information Act to contact the Department for Education to establish which surveys he had used. One was from a Premier Inn survey who were pushing local history to boost usage of their hotels. Another was from UKTV Gold in 2008.

“None of the pieces included links to the original research, and none of the articles cited stated whether the research was commissioned by professional polling companies, or met the standards of the British Polling Council.

The current history curriculum for 11- to 14-year-olds states students should learn to "evaluate the sources used in order to reach reasoned conclusions", while the draft curriculum for history from 2014 notes students should "understand how evidence is used rigorously to make historical claims".

Dozens of people have taken to Twitter to criticise the sourcing for Gove's claims as weak, including the poet and former children's laureate Michael Rosen,who tweeted: "When Gove said: 'Survey after survey' showed teenagers' historical ignorance he meant to say: 'I'm making this up.'" Guardian online 13/5/13

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