Saturday, 12 November 2011

Tabloid Logic: Analysis Says "Don't" It Really Means "Do".

Most readers of The Files will have seen or heard about the recent Mail and Telegraph articles reporting that X number of DLA claimants have never had a face-to-face assessment. Remember that ministers say they don't encourage the newspapers to behave in this way, Chris Grayling insists he's 'bemused' by it. But the Ad Hoc Analysis page on the DWP website exists for a reason.

Basically, from the moment they came into office (and like the Labour government before) they were briefing the press against benefit claimants. These were euphemistically called 'press releases' but they weren't in the DWP press releases on the website and some journos noted that they were on the DWP list for press releases but they weren't receiving these. The DWP it turned out was sending special 'press releases' to certain newspapers specifically because of their stance on benefit claimants. kicked up a fuss and eventually got the government to concede to make these releases public, which they did.

Except that they didn't. No one as far as I'm aware has yet seen those documents except for the people at those newspapers: the Mail, Telegraph, Sun, Express and Times. What the government did instead was make their Ad Hoc Analyses public and these are the basic reports on which those newspaper reports are based. But they are categorically not briefings, in fact there is absolutely no indication on the page that they ever were used to brief the press. But there's no way staff at those newspapers sat down and simply read the reports; they must have had accompanying notes with ready-made quotes from ministers. Back in Spring, Maria Miller didn't even bother changing the words around in Parliament concerning Obesity and Asthma suffers supposedly claiming more than Blind and Deaf people, revealing she was the un-named government source 'at the heart of the reforms' that had issued the briefing against disabled people, as we can expect from this Minister For Disabled People. A short while later after realising they looked like shits picking on children and Prader-Willi diagnosed people, they went for the less sympathetic Alcohol and Drug Addicts, which Miller could only justify with some considerable specificity and mental gymnastics.

So there is no way these newspapers could actually be reading the Ad Hoc Analysis and coming to the conclusions they do. They have always taken a minister's word for it and when a minister says the accompanying report says X, they believe it and only check the report for reference purposes rather than what the report itself actually says. If they had done with the DLA report, they might have read this bit:
"More than one piece of evidence can be used in making a DLA decision. For
each claim, the Decision Maker records the type of evidence which they
considered to be the main source which led to the decision.
When I had my DLA claim considered, I submitted a form which I had help to fill in from a charity, I submitted a psychologists report with that form and a report from an occupational therapist. The DWP decided to send a doctor to do a face-to-face assessment and whilst he must have seen entrails and corpses in his career, he left my mum's house with a pale and drooping face he didn't enter with. I'm not sure he realised people like me even existed. The story of my encounter with a Starbuck's toilet is the only thing from that meeting I'll repeat anywhere else because it's grossly funny, but the remaining three and a half hours was not. There were things I had even kept from my mum, who was my appropriate adult and had to be revealed to. 

Yet I do not know what piece of evidence was the primary reason for the DWP decision. Just because I had a face-to-face interview doesn't mean it's that. It could have been the form alone, or the psychologist or the occupational therapist who had insisted I make a claim to begin with. The Ad Hoc Analysis paper isn't so clear on this either: it gives the figures for what was the primary deciding reason. I was surprised that face-to-face assessments are not so vital to the decision and this is what is meant to be taken away from the results: that face-to-face assessments are of very limited value to making a decision about a claim, probably because the claim form is so damn thorough. Most people will be in tears as they fill it in. If we interpret my case how this report's data has been, I could also be labelled as someone who 'only filled a form in'.

So the only explanation for why the newspapers come to the conclusion that the report specifically tells them not to is because they either didn't read it or they don't care. (EDIT: my implication being that when they are sent Ad Hoc Analysis papers from the DWP, they come with secret ministerial briefings that have not been published or acknowledged to exist)


  1. news papers are allowed to twist a story to fit their readership if the readers like reading that all disabled are fakers, regardless of if they have all the facts or not they can create a story from the facts they choose to report, hence newspapers don't report ALL the facts, just the ones that will sell the paper.

  2. Speaking as a (trainee, I suppose) social scientist, I've got to say that that ad-hoc analysis is so full of caveats and flaws that it's basically meaningless. I've emailed to seek a clarification on one point (the word 'only' in "claim form only" seems to contradict the explanation of "main source of evidence), don't know if I'll get a response, and certainly won't until it's the working week again. As it is, if I handed in anything like that as assessed work, I'd get a fail mark, and not a near fail either... it's frankly obscene.

  3. Agreed Sam Barnett-Cormack,shockingly inept or deliberate obfuscation to provide the desired screaming headline?