Monday, 21 February 2011

Channel 4 Missed The Texas Sharpshooter

Let the manliness of the Texan never be called into question. Let him be elevated to his rightful place far above his peers, less he threaten you more politely than any man has ever threatened anyone. You should be scared for it is said that the Texas sharpshooter rarely misses and gun ownership in Texas is rather high.

But let is also be said that a Yorkshireman makes any Texan look like a gay vegan.

                                                                 A Yorkshireman
                                                             (image is illustrative)

Texas is far, far to the west of the Mason-Dixon line, way beyond the reach of Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon. So no wonder Channel 4 when they reported accurately the number of long-term(5 or more years) Jobseekers Allowance claimants didn't think to go further(if they have since, this blog would like to know) either. They would have spotted that Texas sharpshooter if unlike Mason-Dixon they had the Sauron-like searching death-stare of Mason Dixon, Autistic.

The reason why the Office of National Statistics figures that Channel 4 looked at are important is because the Coalition government made almost the entirety of the case for its welfare reforms on the assertion that there is a substantial number of people living their lives on benefits, often citing ONS figures on the vague criteria data-set of 'households that have never worked'. This is not Daily Mail spin, it isn't Murdoch Media spin; this is home-grown Coalition spin. They have not been taken out of context, it's what they and departments serving under them have hyped; terror wrought by their own hand. It puts some perspective on Iain Duncan-Smith's performance before the Work and Pensions Select Committee where he told them:

"If it’s of any use, it also helps politically to tone the rhetoric down quite a bit. We can turn the knob down on this. There is always this "fraud, fraud, fraud" and everyone wagging their finger at everyone else, bit the truth is that quite a lot of we hear about politically and constantly as fraud is often complexity error. It is very easy for us to say it is fraud, and people feel quite stigmatised by that. The truth is that quite often it has nothing to do with them; it is simply that the system itself means that they did not understand what they were meant to be doing, yet they are apparently committing a fraud. A lot of them did not know that that was the case. We hope that, politically, this will tone some of the rhetoric down and basically stop people being accused of something that, frankly, is partly because of the system and has nothing to do with them."
This dangerous dry-humping of the Truth's leg(even if IDS failed to acknowledge his role as the primary source of the rhetoric he's disapproving of) irked Conservative committee member the Rt Hon Andrew Bingham:
"At the risk of being controversial.."
 Or wrong
 "..I would not quite take that as read just yet. There is a fraud problem."
 Having snapped Mr Duncan-Smith out of it, the exchange on this uncomfortable topic went:
IDS: "There is a fraud problem-I accept that."
Andrew Bingham: "We should not minimise it, to be truthful"
To be truthful, we must avoid pointing out what's true, such as the deliberate conflation of fraud and error being Coalition-sourced rhetoric that has fuelled stigmatisation of benefit claimants. The sick and disabled in this particular instance as Duncan-Smith was vaguely referencing is the way he and the government represented the level of fraud for Disability Living Allowance, possibly the hardest benefit to get in Britain and with the lowest fraud prevalence rate. So far only Lord Freud has apologised(somewhat) for it. The most IDS did was in realising that Mr Bingham was about to make them both look like the underhand, mean, comfortable men that they are, he dropped a subtle hint:
"I am not minimising the fraud problem. My point is that this will help, I hope, in our understanding that some matters that we term fraud, are not really fraud. They are actually about the complexity of the system and people’s failure to understand the system in general. The rest we can define as fraud. This allows us to get after the real fraud in a much more focused way, rather than spreading resources across looking at this, because we will pick up elements that are to do with the way in which things are reported. That is the point that I was making."

There is a sub-text to this; who the hell actually thought "you know what? We should see if we can get some data for how many households as a snapshot contain adults that haven't worked"? If you want to find out about long-term joblessness there are plenty of reliable datasets, many of them in the public domain never mind the government databases the public can't access. Why pick that particular criteria? Because this is the famous Texas sharpshooter: they didn't pick that target and then shoot at it, they shot wildly and drew the target where they got most hits; an unrealistically high number to poison the discourse on welfare in Britain. The definition of 'household' is a snapshot of the make-up of a household at a certain time, a static image of something that is dynamic and always changing. Even households where all the adult residents have worked would be labelled as having 'none who have worked' on the basis that none of them have worked during the time that the household resembled the picture taken of it in the data collection. Some examples: a household with one resident, who has moved into a new town for a job which they haven't taken yet, they count as 'a workless household'. A single mother who has spent two years looking after her child since it was born and her room-mate left so the baby could have it's own room; a workless household too because that particular household consisting of one adult one child has no one who has worked since it began existing.

So this statistic has been picked specifically because of the artificially high number, meaning it is among a lot of other data-sets and figures that must have also been checked but have not been publicised because they did not support the pre-determined conclusion that Britain has a substantial number of people who have never worked. I can't know for sure, but there is a balance of probability and if multiple examples of a similar character keep occurring the probability begins to stack up that this is a government of Texas sharpshooters. They have thoroughly examined all of the most relevant available figures then picked and framed even the most obscure ones to build a case for their welfare policy.

Case file #4 concerns the selection and use of data by all suspect parties in the primary investigation case file(Case #1). Case file #4 on the basis of preliminary evidence from investigations carried out by other agencies non-affiliated with Mason Dixon, Autistic finds that:

Jobseekers Allowance
The Coalition claimed Britain has a substantial and growing problem with long-term high unemployment. They made this claim on the basis of figures by household. Channel 4's report found the figures that debunked this instantly by simply showing pretty much the same general data but going by individual claimants of JSA rather than households. When it came to looking for statistical evidence to back up their policy, government could not have missed this figure and just decided household snapshots were the best they had to go on.

Disability Living Allowance
The Coalition claimed an erroneous level of fraud for this benefit which was padded out by the figures for error, despite the Coalition having the itemised figure readily available as it was in the public domain. Only one suspect has confessed to the crime although others are known to be involved, they have backed away now the damage is done and fingers are pointing at them.

Employment Support Allowance and Incapacity Benefit
The Coalition compromised trials being held in Aberdeen and Burnley by leaking figures that on the face of it appeared to be favourable to their welfare policy. They have been caught lying about what the figures mean but have not acknowledged this and the DWP press release remains uncorrected. Further investigation is warranted and the case will remain open for the next blog post, which will be about this. I hope to make material on it that has so far not been discussed anywhere else.
Case #4: This investigation is on-going.

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