Church leaders demand ministers apologise for "misrepresenting the poor"

An alliance of 11 churches condemns Iain Duncan Smith and Grant Shapps for their misuse of benefit statistics.

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As I've regularly noted on The Staggers, rarely a month now passes without one of David Cameron's ministers being rebuked for some act of statistical chicanery (or, indeed, the Prime Minister himself). And it's not just the number crunchers at the UK Statistics Authority who are concerned. An alliance of 11 churches, including the Methodist Church, the Quakers and the Church of Scotland, has written to Cameron demanding "an apology on behalf of the government for misrepresenting the poor."

The leaders, including the Right Revd Tim Stevens, Bishop of Leicester, and the Right Revd Nick Baines, Bishop of Bradford, highlight three of the most recent offences: 

- Grant Shapps's claim that "nearly a million people" (878,300) on incapacity benefit dropped their claims, rather than face a new medical assessment for its successor, the employment and support allowance.

- Iain Duncan Smith's claim that nearly 8,000 people moved into work as a result of the introduction of the benefit cap (for which, as I recently reported, he now faces a grilling from the work and pensions select committee). 

- Duncan Smith's claim (yes, him again) that many people were applying for the Disability Living Allowance before the new Personal Independence Payment was introduced in order to avoid the new medical test.

They write: 

"All three of these statements have drawn on high quality Government statistical data which has then been misused and misinterpreted. All serve to undermine the credibility of benefit claimants. They were all released at the same time as major changes to the benefit system, which will reduce the level of support many families receive. 

"It is disturbing that these three instances conform to an apparent pattern of misleading and sometimes wholly inaccurate information from the Government when dealing with the issue of social security; a practice that has added to the misunderstanding and stigma which continues to pollute the debate around poverty in the UK. We are concerned that these inaccuracies paint some of the most vulnerable in our society in an unfavourable light, stigmatising those who need the support of the benefits system. No political or financial imperative can be given to make this acceptable."

You can read the letter in full below. 

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith speaks at last year's Conservative conference in Birmingham. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is senior online editor of the New Statesman.

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