After Shapps' bad data, the DWP is back in the spotlight

IDS is spinning furiously.

On the same day that it's revealed that the UK Statistics Authority has rebuked Grant Shapps for making an unsupportable claim about the effectiveness of the government's new Employment and Support Allownace, the Telegraph seems to be playing the same old tune with the Department for Work and Pensions.

First, there's the misleading headline: the claim '25,000 disabled people find work’ is quickly corrected in the body of the piece to "more than 25,000 disabled people have found jobs, training or work experience". That's another example of the Government's tendency to boost their employment figures with people who aren't really doing work at all; earlier this year, they were slammed for including over 100,000 people on mostly unpaid back-to-work schemes in their stats.

Then there's the burying of the actual stats. In this case, that's not because they were privately briefed to the paper, as they were in Shapps' case – something which is a clear breach of rules regarding civil servants' handling of data – but because the numbers themselves are recycled from February this year, when data was released showing that 14,530 people with a disability had started work experience. That total is well over half the figure the government is trumpeting, and there are no corresponding figures detailing how many of those went on to get paid employment. The rest comes from aid given to help people set up businesses, members of mentoring programs, and "formal training for a job interview".

Yes, people "working with a business mentor" ended up becoming "finding work" in the headline, which might be a tad oversimplification.

The figures are being pimped out a second time to promote IDS' plan to boost the schemes. He tells the paper:

We are already helping to boost the employment opportunities for disabled people to get a foothold in the jobs market, get their careers on track and achieve their full potential.

However there’s more we need to do, when too often the talents of disabled people in the workforce are left untapped.

That means addressing the barriers that hold disabled people back, giving them the best prospects of securing a job.

To work out what the best prospects of securing a job are, it might be best if the government would first honestly report how many people have actually got a job.

Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty
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The three avoidable mistakes that Theresa May has made in the Brexit negotiations

She ignored the official Leave campaign, and many Remainers, in pursuing Brexit in the way she has.

We shouldn’t have triggered Article 50 at all before agreeing an exit deal

When John Kerr, the British diplomat who drafted Article 50 wrote it, he believed it would only be used by “a dictatorial regime” that, having had its right to vote on EU decisions suspended “would then, in high dudgeon, want to storm out”.

The process was designed to maximise the leverage of the remaining members of the bloc and disadvantage the departing state. At one stage, it was envisaged that any country not ratifying the Lisbon Treaty would be expelled under the process – Article 50 is not intended to get “the best Brexit deal” or anything like it.

Contrary to Theresa May’s expectation that she would be able to talk to individual member states, Article 50 is designed to ensure that agreement is reached “de vous, chez vous, mais sans vous” – “about you, in your own home, but without you”, as I wrote before the referendum result.

There is absolutely no reason for a departing nation to use Article 50 before agreement has largely been reached. A full member of the European Union obviously has more leverage than one that is two years away from falling out without a deal. There is no reason to trigger Article 50 until you’re good and ready, and the United Kingdom’s negotiating team is clearly very far from either being “good” or “ready”.

As Dominic Cummings, formerly of Vote Leave, said during the campaign: “No one in their right mind would begin a legally defined two-year maximum period to conduct negotiations before they actually knew, roughly speaking, what the process was going to yield…that would be like putting a gun in your mouth and pulling the trigger.”

If we were going to trigger Article 50, we shouldn’t have triggered it when we did

As I wrote before Theresa May triggered Article 50 in March, 2017 is very probably the worst year you could pick to start leaving the European Union. Elections across member states meant the bloc was in a state of flux, and those elections were always going to eat into the time. 

May has got lucky in that the French elections didn’t result in a tricky “co-habitation” between a president of one party and a legislature dominated by another, as Emmanuel Macron won the presidency and a majority for his new party, République en Marche.

It also looks likely that Angela Merkel will clearly win the German elections, meaning that there won’t be a prolonged absence of the German government after the vote in September.

But if the British government was determined to put the gun in its own mouth and pull the trigger, it should have waited until after the German elections to do so.

The government should have made a unilateral offer on the rights of EU citizens living in the United Kingdom right away

The rights of the three million people from the European Union in the United Kingdom were a political sweet spot for Britain. We don’t have the ability to enforce a cut-off date until we leave the European Union, it wouldn’t be right to uproot three million people who have made their lives here, there is no political will to do so – more than 80 per cent of the public and a majority of MPs of all parties want to guarantee the rights of EU citizens – and as a result there is no plausible leverage to be had by suggesting we wouldn’t protect their rights.

If May had, the day she became PM, made a unilateral guarantee and brought forward legislation guaranteeing these rights, it would have bought Britain considerable goodwill – as opposed to the exercise of fictional leverage.

Although Britain’s refusal to accept the EU’s proposal on mutually shared rights has worried many EU citizens, the reality is that, because British public opinion – and the mood among MPs – is so sharply in favour of their right to remain, no one buys that the government won’t do it. So it doesn’t buy any leverage – while an early guarantee in July of last year would have bought Britain credit.

But at least the government hasn’t behaved foolishly about money

Despite the pressure on wages caused by the fall in the value of the pound and the slowdown in growth, the United Kingdom is still a large and growing economy that is perfectly well-placed to buy the access it needs to the single market, provided that it doesn’t throw its toys out of the pram over paying for its pre-agreed liabilities, and continuing to pay for the parts of EU membership Britain wants to retain, such as cross-border policing activity and research.

So there’s that at least.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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