Iain Duncan Smith has been taken to task by the official statistics watchdog over his claims that the £26,000 a year benefits cap spurred 8,000 unemployed people to find jobs. Andrew Dilnot, the chair of the UK Statistics Authority, has written to the TUC (following a complaint from them) to say that he did not comply with the code of practice on the way ministers handled figures, and wanting assurance that he won't do it again. It sounds mild enough, but the language is strong for that kind of official letter. The Huffington Post has the full letter, and the Independent dissects it. Channel 4 News' FactCheck has also described the situation. They all point out that this isn't the first time that IDS has been officially rebuked for making false claims. At last, this morning, the BBC has reported the story, talking briefly to MP Dame Anne Begg who was copied into the letter. She talked about using figures to make a political point and referred to the false claims about 1 million people who were supposedly fit for work.
But "lies, damned lies and statistics" are the stuff of much modern journalism. Ministers are fond of talking about "fraudanderror" (as if it was one word) costing vast amounts of money. Left Foot Forward publishes the official figures from the DWP, which show that just 0.7% of total benefit expenditure (£1.2bn) is down to claimant fraud. 0.9% is due to claimant error, 0.4% to official error. A poll carried out for the TUC shows that the public believes that the fraud figure is 27%. Now, how could they get that false impression? Could it be the result of disgusting "journalism" like that in the Express today? Somebody called Martyn Brown writes an article headlined "Call for new blitz on benefits to cut £3.6bn fraud bill". Hang on, where did that figure come from? Oh yes, it's 3 years' worth. And there's a great big photo of "benefit scrounger Mick Philpott" (who is referred to again at the end of the article as if he's typical). The only reference to percentages in the piece is the fact that the figure for official error has fallen to 0.4%. Brown dissects the fraud figures to show what huge amounts of money are involved, and drags in the odious Taxpayers' Alliance in support. There's nothing in the piece which is actually false (I think) but it's pure propaganda, selective use of the figures to create a false impression.