A little while ago, I invited readers to write to their MP about the persistent, shameful lying of Work and Pensions Secretary Ian (Duncan) Smith and his department, the DWP, about statistics on disabled people and their benefit claims.
Some fantastic letters were sent, and some ludicrous responses received from Tory MPs, which I will turn into an article. But one reader’s correspondence to his MP has become too long, and too good, to simply add an extract into a larger post – so I invited the author to write it up as a guest article for this blog. I’m very glad that he accepted the invitation and am very proud to offer you the resulting article, which I think is so good that he should have his own blog (but I’m pleased the SKWAWKBOX got this before he starts!). Please read – and then please share, as I’m sure you’ll agree it deserves to be widely read:
‘Love Letters to Andrew’
Saturday 1 June 2013Dear Andrew Murrison,I would like to draw your attention to the information outlined in the following; http://skwawkbox.org/2013/06/01/we-did-it-tories-now-spanked-by-uksa-for-blatant-esa-distortion/In brief, the linked article outlines a cynical deception perpetrated by Iain Duncan Smith and Grant Schapps in order to justify what can now only be described as ideological attacks against the vulnerable.I’m calling on you to ensure that both IDS and Schapps are held properly and fully to account for their dishonesty, their manipulation, the abuse of their privilege and their contempt of parliament.Theirs is not the kind of behaviour we demand from those we ‘elect’ to positions of power and responsibility.Neither do we, the electorate, expect such behaviour to be tolerated, let alone condoned by either action or inaction of others in a position and with a duty to act honestly, fairly, honourably and in the interests of all the citizenry.I very much look forward to hearing that you have taken the lead in both publicly condemning their behaviour and ensuring that proper action is taken.Iain Duncan Smith and Grant Schapps must be made accountable for both their deception and the consequences of decisions made based on their misrepresentation of statistics.
Dr Murrison thanks you very much for your email and has asked me to let you know that he will respond to your concerns as soon as he can.Best wishes
PA to Andrew Murrison MD MP
Serving South West Wiltshire
House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA
Constituency Office, Suite 1, Holloway House,
Epsom Square, White Horse Business Park, Trowbridge BA14 0XG
Tel: 01225 358584 Fax: 01225 358583
website: http://www.andrewmurrison.co.uk twitter: murrisonMP
“This is becoming an increasingly serious matter as David Cameron has re-joined the misrepresentation game with his claims over NHS spending.This behaviour is not only a disgrace, it undermines the very fabric of democracy. As my political representative, please advise when I can expect action demonstrating that you do not and will not condone this appalling deceit?If you intend dodging the issue with ‘assurances’ that the underlying policies are working, then also provide proper, un-tampered, evidence to support your claims. And then explain why you’re allowing this behaviour to continue.”
“Thank you. I’m not familiar with the blog you’ve sent me but do not agree that my colleagues engage in ‘cynical deception’ and ‘dishonesty.’ Since I’m also a minister in this government, an attack on them is also an attack on me and I would resent such accusations and refute them.
“Thank you for your reply. Even if it does nothing to amend my perception of those concerned and even less to alleviate my concerns.Details about the misrepresentation/distortion of statistics are fully outlined in the previously linked blog.The page includes the response from Andrew Dilnot, Chair of the UK Statistics Authority alongside a copy of the grossly misleading DWP press release (which, having served its purpose, has since been hidden from public view).I also refer you to the following BBC news report.“Shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne said: “This is a government that doesn’t like to let the facts get in the way of a good story… but it really is outrageous that the Tories have been caught yet again misusing statistics for their own ends.” ”I also refer you to this headline from Dec 2012 (from the Telegraph)http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9722661/David-Cameron-ordered-to-stop-saying-NHS-spending-is-up.html“The chairman of the authority, Andrew Dilnot, issued the rebuke after upholding a complaint by Labour about statements by the Prime Minister and other senior Tories.”Despite this official rebuke, I now refer you to PMQs on Wednesday 5th June 2013 during which Cameron twice repeated the (officially false) claims that NHS spending was up.I’m very well aware that, for many politicians, ‘massaging’ statistics combined with careful, considered phraseology, allusion and sub text are all part and parcel of the ‘political’ process. That this practice is, in some quarters, admired and considered acceptable persuasion rather than devious, deceptive and damaging manipulation.Maybe I’m old fashioned but I stand in the quarter that values a more noble approach to leadership.Perhaps, after considering the news reports and the rebukes from the UK Statistics Office you might recognise that there are occasions, such as these, when rhetoric (or ambition.. or self preservation) overstep the bounds of even political debate.Best wishesJohn Le Brocq”
“Thank you, but spending on the NHS is up!
Regards,Dr Andrew Murrison
MP for South West Wiltshire
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Defence
Prime Minister’s Special Representative for the Centenary Commemoration of the Great War”
“Hi Andrew,NHS spending is up…? Err, no. Not in real terms (when adjusted for inflation) and especially not after the ‘clawbacks’ – £2.2 Billion last year – which is up on the approx. £1.5 Billion in the previous year.Best wishesJohn”
“There’s been a cash terms increase unlike other departments which have necessarily been cut thanks to the financial situation we inherited.
“Entirely misses the point and… really, is that the best you can offer?It still amounts to a real world cut, is contrary to policy ‘promises’ and
the exact opposite of the impression Cameron and Hunt contrived to imply until they were ordered to stop making false claims (see previous link to the telegraph’s news report).Do we really need a watchdog to step in and order public servants to stop perverting the truth? Have we sunk that low?I don’t suppose you’d have a comment to make on today’s news about the investigation into the DWP, David Halpern and the misuse of psychometric testing?
http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/jun/19/health-watchdog-investigates-psychometric-tests?INTCMP=SRCHThe logic behind any claim that the NHS budget hasn’t been cut is perverse and destructive. It’s almost as perverse as claiming that benefit cuts ‘make work pay’. They don’t. Increased pay and conditions make work pay. Jobs make work pay. Benefit cuts just make poverty, hunger and homelessness.By the way, please don’t insult me by defending the latest fact twisting claims that poverty has been alleviated for 100,000 people.I’ve seen the methodology behind the calculations showing that, yet again, the truth is the exact opposite. Rather than any reduction in poverty, average living standards have been significantly reduced to such a degree that ‘relative poverty’ can be made (if you’re so perversely inclined) to appear lessened.Poverty isn’t a relative statistic, it’s the absence of life’s necessities.Knowing your neighbour is also going hungry does not fill your stomach.This government has simply made enough people poorer to skew the average and allow the DWP to make merry with their strange analysis. This government has not lifted anyone out of poverty, it’s brought a whole lot more into or closer to.To date, in real terms, an additional 300,000 children have been
unnecessarily forced into poverty. It’s suggested this figure will reach 500,000 by 2015.It’s that perverse logic at work again.Sorry, the ‘poor me’ rhetoric of blaming the previous incompetents just doesn’t wash. Not least because the root of the financial ‘situation’ you ‘inherited’ lies with Thatcher and market deregulation, for example; http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/7f8aaf08-a122-11e2-bae1-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2WeYhQMvtAnd was then compounded by the inhumane nature, the entitlement ‘culture’ of greed and the opportunity for abuse within a system that demands ruthless self serving aggression from those it allows to ‘succeed’.Rather than whine on about the other side’s failings, how about some action to correct the abuses of those who milk the nation’s wealth, effort and productivity from luxurious off shore tax havens?I know it might appear easier to pick the pockets of the least represented, the weak and vulnerable, and to justify this by manipulating public opinion with the use of false statistics but… is that really what you signed up for?In the long run even George ‘the destroyer’ Osborne will have to acknowledge that a poor, sick, homeless and hungry population is far more damaging to the nation than a few disgruntled dinner guests and even a couple of lost holiday invitations.In brief, and to be clear, this isn’t about party politics. This is simply
one of your constituents asking their representative to stand up for an honourable, honest and proper approach to power, privilege and
responsibility. This is concern for the state of the nation.It would appear I need to take my concerns elsewhere.RegardsJohn Le Brocq”
“Thank you. There is no need to be unpleasant. I have stated the facts and cannot be responsible for any impression you have gained from them. I think the points you are trying to make are polemic in nature and I suspect we are unlikely to be able to find common ground. Nevertheless, I’m grateful to you for letting me have your views.
“You’re more than welcome although, I am sorry you found my approach unpleasant, it wasn’t intended as such – I was aiming for robust banter, something to help develop a dialogue beyond refutation.Question;
Aren’t you just a bit concerned when such prominent and influential members of this government are officially cautioned for making false claims?
Concerned that these claims are given credibility (as press releases) and so erroneously influence public opinion? Not least because the corrections receive far less attention and the minister’s responsible have, so far, escaped any accountability for such actions.Not to mention, you must be concerned when key policy decisions need to be justified by misrepresentation of their effectiveness and consequences?
Especially when emergency legislation needs to be drafted and applied retroactively as the only way to legitimise departmental behaviour?http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/mar/15/dwp-law-change-jobseekers-poundlandFor the Statistics Authority to issue such orders there has been either gross incompetence (by either the departments or ministers) and/or gross negligence (by senior advisors or ministers) or outrageous dishonesty.
None of which can be swept under the carpet if we are to ensure proper management of the nation’s concerns.You see, I remain convinced that the common ground we share is a concern for the proper management of the nation and the well being of all the people.As such, I’m similarly convinced that we would both recognise the need for any government (and its agents) to have sufficient strength of character to admit failings and amend policy rather than fudge statistics?I do understand the difficulties you face, especially as a minister, in supporting my concern but, surely, your desire, as shown by your chosen profession and your previous career, is to serve the country above all else?Aside from which, if the persons involved have nothing to hide, what harm would there be in raising the matters for full and proper examination?On the other hand, if there is something ‘rotten in Denmark’, surely it would be crucial for the proper management of the country to ensure a full and proper investigation leading to actions within the bounds of both parliamentary procedure and expectations?SincerelyJohn Le Brocq”
” I’m assuming you are equating official caution with comments made by the government statistician which is slightly different. The danger of stats as I know since I’ve used them rather a lot is that they can be used to say various things. My view is that authorities should not knowingly manipulate official figures to falsify positions.
“Thank you, Andrew, I think you might be right.I’m referring to statements – made by the UK Statistics Authority given Royal Assent to (in part) oversee the quality and integrity of statistics produced, quoted, used (or abused) by government departments.I’m asking for action to be taken to put more weight behind the comments to ensure those responsible for misuse of statistics face official sanctions (which may be a caution or may be more severe).So far as the dangers and flexible nature of statistics, I agree, there is often ‘wriggle room’. As a consequence, I thought long and hard before approaching you and pursuing this matter.In these cases what we’re seeing goes far beyond ‘wriggle room’ – particularly in the case of Shapps, IDS and the conflation of “official statistics relating to new claimants of the ESA with official statistics on recipients of the incapacity benefit (IB) who are being migrated across to the ESA” – we’re seeing such a level of incompetence or negligence or dishonesty that it demands further action.I’m not expecting you take my word for this, nor am I expecting you to personally undertake an investigation into exactly how, why and who was responsible. I’m simply asking that the matter is properly raised and addressed, that a prominent and public correction is made and that (after a suitable investigation is made) sufficient punitive action is taken against those responsible to ensure this misleading behaviour is stopped.Andrew, the particular statistics in question represent the most vulnerable people in our community, people who demand the greatest duty of care, people in already fragile, sometimes desperate circumstances. Their lives are tough enough without the added burden of reckless misrepresentation.All I’m asking is that you initiate action that ensures that duty of care is properly upheld.SincerelyJohn Le Brocq”