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.

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A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear