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
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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

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