Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Semi-skimmed Fact

I've taken issue with FullFact's article on the figures for the extent of cuts directed at sick and disabled people and have been asked to e-mail Federica. This was the message I sent.

When problems with this were first brought to my attention, I had not read the "A Fair Society?" report from where the figures are drawn; what I saw was responses by Ben Baumberg to FullFact on Twitter, which were:

"@FullFact are usually a great source, but Factcheck on disabled ppl & austerity is terrible (  ). It's like you they..."

"...didn't read the CWR report that contains the figure! E.g. @FullFact ignore that disabled ppl subject to BOTH dis-specific & wider cuts..."

"...It's not that the figures are perfect - they're not - but unusually @FullFact is not a helpful guide to the validity of these figures"

I frequently warn other welfare campaigners(and receive important corrections myself) about careless use of statistics for rhetorical effect and wrote this piece back in January explaining why benefit spending on the unemployed is not 3% and they should stop claiming it is. In FullFact's article I can see them making a similar mistake, loosely described by Ben Baumberg: spending targeted at a group is not all spending on that group. That group not only overlaps with other claimant and service receiving groups, but some disabled people won't receive any disability-specific provision at all but be relying on other sources of public funded income and support. This alone means the FullFact piece requires significant change, to fully account for the provision disabled people rely on, most of which are under pressure from the government to reduce costs even further and to better explain the conclusion FullFact ends up with. FullFact did not respond to the replies on Twitter and the item was not changed. When they re-tweeted the article again today(note: I started writing this a few days ago and got back to it), it still had not been changed and it made me rather angry.

FullFact do acknowledge in the article that not all disabled people are in receipt of the specific benefits and support provision, but there appears to be a lack of understanding about how some of the ways the government is allowed to get away with things. For example, by counter-balancing losses for some with rises for others- this makes it easy for people only looking at the raw numbers to fall into the trap of only considering the aggregate net total of spending and they ignore what thousands of people will lose. If you think about it in these terms then you miss the point(as virtually every Coalition-supporting news outlet and commentator manages to). If you instead focus on the recipients of support to begin with and what they then lose, you see the effects. The report notes that by 2011 78% of councils had stopped supporting those with 'low' or 'moderate' needs(3.1); if you focus only on how those councils reduced overall spending on social care rather than on the total sum lost by those no longer eligible for support or only reduced support, you would not see the damage done even in terms of the financial hit to the losers. Most of the losers would be in a blind-spot. It's possible FullFact's impartiality could be part of the problem; it does not occur to staff that cuts are ideological and not in fact intended to make significant overall savings. So nothing that points that way is considered.

For all its faults, the A Fairy Society report does explain how it arrives at many of the estimates it gives. It is not clear how FullFact improves on this. It neither works to rebut the content within the report nor provide an equally comprehensive analysis to see if the same conclusions are drawn. As I finish this, Scope has just released a report they commissioned from Demos and it arrives at very similar conclusions to A Fair Society. As far as I am aware, that report is completely independent of the other one.


  1. The posters on the Guardian article are symptomatic of peoples' difficulty in understanding the point that a reduction does not result in savings.Perhaps illustration may help in that regard.Some posters have done so-the person who continued to work because of low rate mobilty DLA receivership at a crucial time,doubting that if they had not received it they would have been able to work-a small amount resulting in mass savings and increased tax.Clear cases may be seen by the reduction in HB for a "spare" room -home dialysis -the preferred and a designated room is heavilly advised,proven health enhancing(better BP,less infections,enhanced psychological well being of choice etc)-saves the NHS tens of thousands pounds a year,after initial set up-the average wait for transplant(if possible)is three years-this cost saving is already recognised by DLA middle rate automaticity-a very rare thing and for that very reason,you also have to have someone with you during some types of dialysis and recommended for all haemodialysis-a lady in Australia died doing it herself recently.I waffle but for a reason -anything that goes against such things is misanthropic and financial illiteracy gone mad-no discretion should be even considered as that is temporary and may well be enough to hinder the efffective choice making process-for a 14% reduction in such a case results in an exponential INCREASE in State spending-just one example.

  2. I'll be making one of my 'How To' strips with an explanation of what I mean. There's the matter of cuts to thing which are cost-saving; meaning that over the long-term the mess caused has to be cleaned up at great expense, but there is another matter I touch on above which is an issue of statistical representation.

    We all know about the meme circulating in certain publications that 'there is no austerity' and it is based on looking at overall spending figures. It completely ignores the cuts actually experienced by people on the receiving end of them. If ten people receiving support is cut to six, but some of the saving is spent on those that remain, a small reduction in overall expenditure occurs yet four people have lost support equal to the value of what they were receiving but this does not appear on a balance sheet.