A Work and Pensions Committee report published this week has backed my claims that under Iain Duncan Smith’s leadership, the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) misuses statistical information and creates negative views about benefit recipients.
I have previously raised concerns in the House of Commons about Duncan Smith’s misuse of statistics as well as other members of the Government including the Prime Minister.
Iain Duncan Smith clearly misuses statistics to further the government’s ideological aim to demonise people on benefits even though the majority of social security claimants are in work and struggling to make ends meet.
The UK Statistics Authority has already had a couple of run-ins with the Secretary of State, saying that he hadn’t ‘fully complied’ with the code of practice on official statistics and had to write to him to seek assurance that statistics would be handled correctly in future. They haven’t been which is disgraceful.
I believe that only someone who knows their arguments are weak, or that they are failing in their job, has to resort to misusing statistics to cover up the real facts. The Select Committee was unimpressed with Mr Duncan Smith’s excuses and complacency, particularly as he has been warned before. If it happens again, I would have to question whether the Ministerial Code Ministers are meant to adhere to is worth the paper it is written on.
The W&PC report says:
Use of DWP statistics
DWP releases a great deal of statistical information about benefits. It needs to exercise care in the language used in accompanying press releases and ministerial comments in the media, to ensure it avoids the risk of feeding into negative public views about benefit recipients. DWP should set out the specific steps it has taken to ensure that statistics are released in a way which is accurate, and fair to benefit claimants [paragraphs 139-142].
Commenting, Dame Anne Begg MP, Committee Chair, said: ”Statistics should be used to shed light on policy implementation, not to prop up established views or feed preconceptions. The UK Statistics Authority reprimanded DWP a number of times in 2013 for the way it was handling benefit statistics. 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.”
I have raised the issues of the government’s misuse of statistics on several occasions including:
1. Oral answers to questions – 14 Oct 2013– column 427
Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): Is it not the case that the Secretary of State has been rebuked not once but twice by the chair of the UK Statistics Authority for the misleading, if not false, claims that he is making about the welfare reform programme? Will he take the opportunity to apologise to the House and to the public at large, not least to those on social security, whom the Government continue to denigrate?
2. Topical Questions – 19 Nov 2013 : Column 1072
Debbie Abrahams: The Government have been rebuked by the UK Statistics Authority, the Office for Budget Responsibility and others for misleading statements by Ministers on welfare, economic, health and education policy. Given that this, unfortunately, slips between the ministerial and Members’ codes, what does the Deputy Prime Minister believe the punishment should be for Ministers who deliberately mislead the House and, more importantly, the public?
3. Point of Order – July 2013 – column 953
Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Yesterday the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and the Prime Minister made very misleading statements about the impact of welfare reform—
Mr Speaker: Order. I am sure that the hon. Lady is not suggesting that any misleading statements were made in this House. Can she just be clear that she is not saying that?
Debbie Abrahams: Not in this House.
Mr Speaker: Right. If the hon. Lady has a point of order, let us hear it briefly.
Debbie Abrahams: Misleading statements were made, not in this House, but in relation to Government business. The Government have been rebuked on a number of occasions, for example by the chair of the UK Statistics Authority, for making misleading remarks. It is unparliamentary behaviour. What action can be taken?
Mr Speaker: Order. I simply say to the hon. Lady that, although I understand that emotions on these matters are extremely highly charged, where there are references to conduct outside the Chamber, by definition the matter is not parliamentary and, therefore, there can be no question of the Chair being expected properly to rule on the matter. She has made her wider point and it is on the record. I think that we must leave it there for today.
4. Business of the House – June 2013 – column 504
* Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): Given that the Health Secretary, the Work and Pensions Secretary, the Lord Chancellor, the Chancellor and even the Prime Minister seem to have a basic lack of understanding of basic statistics, when will the Leader of the House organise a training course for them, and will it be a back-to-basics training course?
5. Point of Order – 13 May 2013 – column 349
Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You may be aware that last Thursday, Andrew Dilnot, the chair of the UK Statistics Authority, wrote to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions regarding his misuse of official statistics on the benefit cap. It was found that, once again, the Department was making claims that were unsupported by official statistics. That follows similar issues regarding the Child Support Agency statistics in February, and also extends to the Secretary of State for Health and his health funding claims last December, and even to the Prime Minister’s use of official statistics last October. The Work and Pensions Committee has also—
Mr Speaker: Order. I allowed the hon. Lady to pursue—[Interruption.] Order. No assistance from anybody is required. I let the hon. Lady raise her point of order, but it was in danger of becoming an abuse. From what I heard, the matter that she raised is obviously of concern to her and to others, but is not a point of order or a matter for the Chair. There are opportunities, which I am sure she will use, to draw attention to the issue. We will leave it there.
Hansard extracts end
Committee Website: www.parliament.uk/workpencom