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Monday, July 15, 2013 

Well, you can prove anything with facts.

Usually, it's in opposition that politicians have the most opportunity to mislead with statistics.  The Tories repeatedly claimed that violent crime had increased massively under Labour, disregarding the fact that they were comparing statistics that err, couldn't be in real sense as the recording method had been changed so drastically, from the police deciding what was a violent crime to the victim saying whether or not they felt the incident they had been involved in was violent.  Labour, meanwhile, were repeatedly accused of fiddling statistics, often precisely because the change in recording methods meant that the old statistics weren't comparable.  Now the Tories are in power they naturally never miss a chance to trump how crime continues to fall under their watch, as though they had always recognised it had done so under Labour's stewardship.

The coalition has succeeded though where Labour failed in misleading with statistics, if only down to how it doesn't seem that anyone's prepared to stand up for benefit claimants.  Despite being criticised by the head of the UK Statistics Authority when he last claimed that 8,000 of those told they were likely to be hit by the benefit cap had suddenly found work, when as Declan Gaffney and Jonathan Portes pointed out the document his remarks were based on said that the figures couldn't be used in this way, Iain Duncan Smith today upped the number further to 12,000.  Things like facts don't matter to IDS it seems, as long as he has "a belief" that he's the one in the right.  Besides, we can't "disprove" that he's wrong in his belief, despite the fact that you "cannot absolutely prove" the connection between the introduction of the benefit cap and the number who would have been affected finding work.

The BBC for their part are reporting IDS's assertion as fact, not mentioning in their piece that he was previously told not to make such claims.  Benefit cap 'encourages job seekers' is their headline, the only indication that they're not swallowing the line from the DWP completely being those quotation marks.  Coming as it does on the same day as a report suggests that those earning under £22,000 a year are finding it more and more difficult to afford private rented accommodation, you might have thought the BBC would have looked into the DWP's claims more deeply.

It seems instead that when it comes to a policy that is popular, despite the fact it's estimated the cap will save a relatively minor £110m in its first year when around £95bn is currently paid out in benefits to those of working age, that the usual critical faculties don't apply.  Indeed, they don't seem to come into play at all when it comes to ministers commenting on their anti-scrounger policies.  Quite why the media takes Grant Shapps, aka Michael Green seriously at all is a mystery, let alone when he claimed that hundreds of thousands were dropping their claims for ESA rather than go through the work capability assessment, completely ignoring the natural churn between applying or being moved onto the new benefit and the WCA being carried out.

Little wonder then that as we saw last week, the public have hugely inflated notions of the number cheating the system as well as the amounts spent on out of work benefits.  If the media aren't prepared to take on ministers when they at best mislead and worst outright lie, something they used to get highly excised about, what hope is there of those outside the politics bubble having an accurate picture of the state?

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