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 Change.org 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.

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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.