Duncan Smith rebuked by ONS for misuse of benefit statistics

The claim that 8,000 people moved into work as a result of the benefit cap is "unsupported by the official statistics", says the UK Statistics Authority.

Once again, the Tories have fallen foul of the number crunchers. After previously rebuking David Cameron for falsely claiming in a Conservative Party political broadcast that the coalition "was paying down Britain’s debts", the UK Statistics Authority has rapped Iain Duncan Smith for his claim that 8,000 people moved into work as a result of the planned introduction of the coalition's benefit cap. In response to a complaint from the TUC, Andrew Dilnot, the watchdog's chair, states that the assertion was "unsupported by the official statistics". 

In a separate letter to Duncan Smith, Dilnot writes that "In the manner and form published, the statistics do not comply fully with the principles of the Code of Practice, particularly in respect of accessibility to the sources of data, information about the methodology and quality of the statistics, and the suggestion that the statistics were shared with the media in advance of their publication." 

You can read both letters in full below. 

A petition calling for Duncan Smith to appear before the work and pensions select committee to explain his use of statistics has been signed by 52,455 people. 

Jayne Linney, who submitted the petition said:

This announcement from the UK Statistics Authority is really worrying. Iain Duncan Smith needs to realise that what he says affects people. We live everyday with the reality of the benefit changes and it’s awful to keep hearing people like us portrayed as scroungers. The government can debate policy but it should tell us the truth.

The job of the work and pensions committee is to scrutinise government policy and the action of government ministers. They should question Iain Duncan Smith about his statements and get to the truth behind the statistics.

Last month, as you'll recall, a petition from the site calling for Duncan Smith to prove his claim that he could live on £53 a week was signed by 475,000 people. 

Update: The DWP appears to be suggesting that anecdotal evidence was sufficient to justify the claim. 

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith arrives to attend the government's weekly cabinet meeting at Number 10 Downing Street. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.