Tuesday, 3 January 2012

A Most Welcome Slander

Following on from my recent preachy theme on how words should carry meaning, implicit in this is the moral demand on journalists to not simply repeat what a public figure has said, or what other newspapers are printing. I think some journos do this because of that cursed desire to be 'neutral' and not taint a News piece with Comment, or what is perceived to be Comment or opinion. Others just want to get stuff wrote-up and ready to go to the sub-editors as quickly as possible so don't bother doing some basic fact checks on what they are reporting. It seems perfectly fine to report that: "Duncan Smith said that in the decade to 2009/10, welfare spending increased by 45% in real terms – to £147bn – with the housing benefit bill reaching £20bn, up from £11.2bn in 2000/01" because the Fact is he did. His own 'facts' do not need scrutiny.

I disagree.

Here are the latest tables for annual benefit expenditures since 1948(Excel file). Some benefits appear to be missing because Tax Credits are managed by HRMC and not the DWP. However, Iain Duncan-Smith's figure appears to exclude them also. In nominal terms, total benefit expenditure for 1999/00 is £99 billion and for 2009/10 it is £147 billion. Yes, I said *nominal*, but looking at that it would seem from what Duncan-Smith is saying is that the nominal and real term figures are similar. After all, why would he claim the rise was 45% in real terms, which seems really close percentage-wise to the £48 billion increase, if they were not?

Probably because almost no one in the media bothers to actually check these figures, not even in the 'Left of Centre' Guardian. A visit to the next table in the Excel file shows the real terms figures at 2011/12 prices. In 1999/00 the bill was £130 billion, quite a lot higher than the £99 billion nominal cash amount back then. In 2009/10 it was £155 billion, also a lot higher than the nominal £147 billion.

So the real terms rise at 2011/12 prices is just £17 billion. That doesn't look like a 45% increase in real terms to me unless the definition of that term has changed without my noticing; that looks like the majority of the rise in expenditure can be accounted for by inflation. This is why that programme I keep banging on about can not defend its factual rigour on the basis that it used political speeches by these very same people that use these figures as appropriate sources. You can possibly make the 45% rise in real terms claim stick depending on which year you cherry-pick to base the prices on. If I take the nominal figure of £99 billion for 1999/00 and use the 2009/10 real terms figure of £155 billion I could argue that the rise in spending has been 'around £60 billion' which is exactly what John Humphrys did, using a David Cameron speech from last February as his 'objective' source.

This graph in a report from the Institute of Fiscal Studies shows that the actual increase in real terms spending on benefits has been on average been the lowest since 1948:

Note: below each bar is the 4-5 year period covered and below that is the year adjusted for inflation
The last three bars tell you everything you need to know about what Liam Bryne has announced on behalf of Labour and Iain Duncan-Smith has announced on behalf of the Coalition in the last few hours: both sides might be happy with the premise that Labour spent excessively on social security; it is convenient to their actual positions on welfare. But it is a completely false myth: Labour were harsher on benefit claimants than any other administration that came before them since 1948.

I refer again to my post from October about Edward Milliband and Labour's fake and real positions on welfare: A Year Of Consequences. IF even in the face of overwhelming evidence, the Labour Shadow Cabinet refuse to budge from their position; that accusations that they were soft on welfare can be used by themselves to justify them advancing to ever more regressive and evidence-free statements and policies, then their position is no different from that of the Coalition and this is what Iain Duncan-Smith accurately identified today. They find the accusations about their welfare record to be the most welcome slander.


  1. Ah, but what is Truth in the face of der Geist aus die Olympics und das Jubiläum?

    As fantastical a plan as it may seem, I'm off to Germany in the hope of finding a more enlightened social policy.

  2. MD,A hope everythings OK(ish)-re DLA what does Boris think?- http://www.scribd.com/doc/77329822/Mayoral-Submission

  3. Boris is rumoured to want Cameron's job after this Parliament, or maybe before if the Coalition crumbles. Whilst he could not possibly have planned for his own submission to the DLA consultation to be revealed, he seems to have anticipated it so he comes off looking very good. I'd almost believe he had no role other than expressing concern like a normal human being.

    Whether intentionally or not, he has moved himself into the position David Cameron occupied a few years ago when he was fooling the country that the Conservatives had changed and he could be trusted on the NHS and disability issues because of his own experiences.