Confirmed: Duncan Smith will be grilled by MPs in September over misuse of benefit statistics

IDS will appear before the work and pensions select committee on 4 September to answer questions over his misrepresentation of welfare figures.

Back in May, I reported that Iain Duncan Smith would be grilled by MPs over his misuse of benefit statistics and, after his latest crimes against data, the good news is that a date has now been confirmed. 

In response to an email from Jayne Linney, who started a Change.org petition demanding parliament hold Duncan Smith to account, Anne Begg, the Labour chair of the work and pensions select committee, replied

I can confirm that IDS will be appearing before the Work and Pensions Select Committee on Wednesday 4th September where he will be asked questions about the DWP’s Annual Report and the Department’s use of statistics.

Best wishes

Anne

The committee certainly won't be short of material. To recap, Duncan Smith claimed that 878,000 people dropped their claims for sickness benefits rather than face a new medical assessment; that thousands deliberately registered for the Disability Living Allowance before it was replaced with the more "rigorous"Personal Independence Payment; and that 8,000 people moved into work as a result of the introduction of the coalition’s benefit cap. Not one of these assertions was supported by the official statistics.

Thousands of people move on and off benefits each month as their health, housing and employment circumstances change but there is no evidence that they do so for the reasons ascribed by Duncan Smith. As his own department stated in relation to the benefit cap, "The figures for those claimants moving into work cover all of those who were identified as potentially being affected by the benefit cap who entered work. It is not intended to show the additional numbers entering work as a direct result of the contact."

Perhaps it's not surprising, then, that in his now infamous Today interview on Monday, Duncan Smith abandoned any pretence of evidence-based policy, declaring: "The reality is, I believe that to be right. I believe that we are already seeing people go back to work, who were not going to go back to work until they were assured of the cap."

Let's hope the committee treats this guff with the contempt it deserves. 

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
Show Hide image

Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.