Tuesday, 16 July 2013

IDS: Belief vs. Statistics

I am extremely disappointed to once again have to draw attention to Iain Duncan Smith. You would think that having been publicly rebuked by the independent UK Office of Statistics, in addition to the official inquiry by the Committee of Work and Pensions into the use of Statistics by the DWP, that he would now be more honest with his dealings with the media. It would seem this is far from the case.

The benefit cap was rolled out across Britain this week. It imposes a limit on the total amount a family or individual can receive in benefits which is equal to the average earnings (not income). This amounts to £500pw for a family and £350pw for an individual. Disabled people in receipt of DLA or its successor PIP are exempt as are people on some other similar benefits.

Iain Duncan Smith was rebuked by the Independent UK Statistics Authority for claiming that 8000 people had found work as a direct result of the benefit cap. This was found to be "unsupported by official statistics". The chair further added that the figures were "not intended to show the additional numbers entering work as a direct result of the contact". This misuse of statistics had become so routine that the Work and Pensions Select Committee conducted an official inquiry.

This has not stopped Iain Duncan Smith from making the exact same claim on Monday April 15th, this time claiming that 12,000 people have gone into work as a direct result of the benefit cap.

Astonishingly, when confronted on this by John Humphrys, Iain Duncan Smith refuted the finding of the UK Statistics Authority, saying that they had only said there was no evidence of a link. Going further he said that no one could prove that what he said wasn't true and that he "believed" it was.

This is truly mind blowing. This is a minister in charge of sweeping welfare reform. Yet he feels able to ignore DWP statistics, rigorous analysis and an Independent expert body all on the basis of his "beliefs", with the childish retort that "you can't prove it isn't true".

Well on that basis I believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) and since you can't prove it isn't true, then it exists. I assert that 5% of children have seen the FSM and around 8% of adults. I believe that better working conditions should improve this percentage to around 10% as I believe more relaxed people are more open minded..... *sigh*

Two main issues arise from this:

The first is that any statistical claim made by this minister can only be treated with suspicion. He is willing to ignore analysis in favour of what he "believes". He believes this so strongly that he will ignore independent experts. Although I do have to ask: surely ignoring a rebuke by the Statistics Authority to the point of repeating a false claim is misconduct?

The second is potentially more serious. This man has been in charge of possibly the biggest welfare reform Britain has ever seen. In this process how many other experts, analysis and statistics has he ignored in favour of what he "believes" and "feels" is right?

There are good reasons we conduct research and compile statistics when completing large reforms. Manipulating or ignoring them at ministerial level should not be tolerated.

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