The great DWP conjuring act on worklessness figures

The Department for Work and Pensions is under pressure to improve levels of transparency and accountability following a FullFact.org investigation yesterday.

The Department for Work and Pensions is under pressure to improve levels of transparency and accountability following a FullFact.org investigation yesterday.

A press release from Iain Duncan Smith’s department on 14 September led to headline stories in the Sun and the Daily Mail – the Sun claiming one in thirty Britons have never had a job and the Mail saying 1.5 million Britons had never worked in their life. These figures tie in well with the Coalition’s pugnacious rhetoric condemning “benefit scroungers”.

But as FullFact reported, these figures were not part of a publicly accessible investigation:

“… the DWP’s press officer seemed co-operative, promising to forward us the findings that had been released to the papers.

“This afternoon, two days and several phone calls later, we were finally emailed the press release. It contains the statistics reported in both papers, the Employment Minister’s accompanying comments and a briefing about the government’s upcoming Work Programme.

“But the only source referenced is last week’s ONS (Office for National Statistics) research on workless households, which revealed nothing about the number of Brits who have never been employed.”

Left Foot Forward have ourselves inquired into the source behind the figures. This morning a DWP spokesman told us they were the result of an investigation conducted internally by the department, and were therefore separate from the ONS research; he insisted that the figures were:

“…all quality assured and double checked to ensure they were as robust as possible.”

This is not the first time the DWP have provided mysterious figures on the jobless. Last month Left Foot Forward revealed a disturbing distortion of statistics, which led to newspapers lambasting the 250,000 households where no-one has ever had a job. In the light of the figures, the Daily Telegraph’s Jeff Randall spoke of “clobbering dole cheats“.

Once again, the figures were released in a press release and were not part of an official published report. This time, they were found to be erroneous in number and misleading in presentation; as Left Foot Forward’s Nicola Smith pointed out:

“Many of the households included in the analysis are likely to be made up of people the Government does not expect to work and has committed to protecting – severely disabled people and single parents with very young children.”

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.