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Why is Iain Duncan Smith still a member of Parliament?
Apparently there is an offence, here in the UK, known as Contempt of Parliament. An MP is guilty of this if he or she deliberately misleads Parliament, and any MP accused of the offence may be suspended or expelled.
Our odious Work and Pensions secretary is a repeat offender. It is one thing to be “economical with the truth”, as the euphemism goes; it is entirely different to present known falsehoods to the House of Commons as though they were accurate.
Smith’s latest wheeze involves a press release released by his Department of Work and Pensions last month, in which he is quoted as follows: “Already we’ve seen 8,000 people who would have been affected by the [benefits] cap move into jobs. This clearly demonstrates that the cap is having the desired impact.”
There is no evidence to support the claim. This has been made clear by Andrew Dilnot, chair of the UK Statistics Authority, who said in an open letter yesterday (Thursday) that it was “unsupported by the official statistics published by the department”.
He added that an explicit caution had made it clear that the statistics used by Smith to support his claim were “not intended to show the additional numbers entering work as a direct result of the contact”.
In addition, figures released alongside the statement do not comply with the UK’s codes and practices on statistical releases, and concerns have been raised about the methodology and sourcing, along with possible advance sharing of the data with some – sympathetic? – media outlets.
As an aside, it seems unlikely that Mr Dilnot realised, when he accepted his role at the statistics authority, that it would be such a high-profile role. How many people had even heard of it before the Tory-led Coalition government came into power? Precious few, one suspects.
Yet it has now become a household name, due to the Tories’ continued and persistent use of faked statistics.
They claimed the NHS budget was rising when it had fallen – and only yesterday we saw one consequence of this; the critical strain facing accident and emergency units. Remember, many hospitals are having their A&E units closed, adding to the strain on those that are left. Why is this happening, if not to save money?
They also claimed – in a party political broadcast, no less – that the national debt was falling when in fact it has risen massively over the course of this Parliament.
And now this.
Smith is, as mentioned above, a repeat offender: He also stated recently that around a million people have been stuck on benefits for at least three of the last four years, “despite being judged capable of preparing or looking for work”. These figures were, of course, inaccurate – they included single mothers, the seriously ill, and people awaiting testing.
Oxfam’s Katherine Trebeck, policy and advocacy manager for its UK poverty programme, said in The Mirror that this was “beyond the pale”.
She said: “The vast majority of people who are out of work would jump at the chance to take a job that paid them a wage they can afford to live on.”
And the TUC’s general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said in The Guardian: “Only people with weak arguments need to make up statistics.
“The secretary of state needs to apologise – not just to Parliament, but to the many who cannot find jobs, for misusing his department’s statistics in this way.”
The DWP has issued a statement supporting Smith, but its argument is extremely weak. It said anecdotal responses of staff and claimants supported what he had said: “DWP staff and claimants are telling us the cap is impacting behaviour and leading to those affected finally entering the world of work.”
Anecdotal evidence is not fact and cannot be presented as such. Our good friend Wikipedia describes it in these terms: “Because of the small sample, there is a larger chance that it may be unreliable due to cherry-picked or otherwise non-representative samples of typical cases.Anecdotal evidence is considered dubious support of a claim; it is accepted only in lieu of more solid evidence. This is true regardless of the veracity of individual claims.“
Manipulation of statistics by the DWP and its secretary of state prompted Debbie Sayers and fellow blogger Jayne Linney – who has supported Vox Political articles many times – to launch a petition on the change.org website, calling on Parliament’s Work and Pensions Committee to hold Smith to account for his habitual offences against government statistics.
The petition is here, and at the time of writing has more than 76,500 signatures. Please sign it if you haven’t already done so.
It’s time for Iain Duncan Smith – who remains, let’s all remember, Vox Political‘s Monster of the Year for 2012 – to put up or shut up. He must either admit that he lied to Parliament and to the people in order to justify his despicable treatment of the most vulnerable people in the country…
… or he must be expelled from Parliament like the disgrace that he is.