Thursday, 22 January 2015

Tories` data chicanery

Surprise, surprise! Another broken promise from Cameron. No, not the "No VAT increase", nor even the "No top-down reorganisation of the NHS", but the pledge to lead "the most open and transparent government in the world". How many weeks did that last?
         The point is that this government has been so adept at making false promises and claims, it is difficult to believe anything Cameron, Osborne and co. say. For instance, many will remember back in May 2013, that Iain Duncan Smith was reprimanded by the UK Statistics Authority when he used incorrect figures to promote the effectiveness of the coalition`s benefits cap on getting people back into work. The figure of 8,000 employed was seen as one of many "ad hoc" figures which was "unsupported by the official statistics published by the department", but it didn`t prevent either the government painting a picture of feckless "scroungers", unwilling to work until the state stopped subsidising them, or the hateful gutter press filling their front pages with lies. The claim that 878,000 dropped their claims for sickness benefits rather than face the new medical assessment was also untrue. As Frances O`Grady rightly said at the time, only politicians "with weak arguments need to make up" their facts!
       Back in 2011, Boris Johnson, unsurprisingly, was criticised by the chair of the UK Statistics Authority for misusing figures "to publicise the success" of his transport policies in London, and told, in no uncertain terms, to "comply with the Code of Practice as a matter of principle"; the use of dubious figures, Johnson was told, was undermining the public`s faith in data used by politicians.
          Another arch-exponent of untrustworthy figures is, of course, Michael Gove. Not content with basing much of the evidence for his wholesale and totally unnecessary transformation of the examination system on his own misuse of data, he also criticised our state education`s standards by using the famous Pisa results, comparing educational standards across the developed world. The only trouble is that these are themselves flawed, not even based on a common test, but on different students in different countries answering different questions! Having been reprimanded by OECD for the misuse of data, Gove, in March 2013, suggested "survey after survey" had revealed "disturbing historical ignorance" amongst pupils. However, a Freedom of Information request indicated that there had been only one properly conducted poll, and the others "amateurish and politically biased", including one carried out by Premier Inn!
      As if we needed more evidence of this government`s duplicity regarding tax avoidance, figures revealed this week show yet more proof that the speeches about "smelling the coffee", and it being "morally repugnant" is sheer hypocrisy. A parliamentary committee`s report criticises the number of "off payroll" arrangements in the public sector. These are where individuals have their salaries paid to a company, in order to avoid the higher income tax, and instead pay the much lower corporation tax. The government promised to clamp down on the practice in May 2012, when it was disclosed that around 2400 of these arrangements existed; hardly rocket science you would think. Nevertheless, the National Audit Office identified 2214 still in existence in 2013-14. So much for the clamp down! 
     Of course, there are many , many examples; Jeremy Hunt has been found to be wanting in terms of accuracy when it came to announcing NHS waiting times, and forced to withdraw his claim that NHS spending had risen in real terms in 2010 and 2011, whilst the Chancellor has been found guilty of attempting to mislead the public over deficit reduction, as recently as last month. In January 2013 Cameron said the coalition was "paying down Britain`s debts" when the national debt had risen from £811bn to £1.1trillion! There are too many for these to be judged as mistakes; it`s clear they are obvious attempts to mislead us, and all government statistics must be viewed suspiciously.
   Unemployment down, we are told, but how many figures fail to include those who are not receiving unemployment benefit because of government imposed sanctions, not because they have found work? Thousands of new businesses created, but how many actually employ workers? Then there`s the inflation figures. We know how rules were changed so pensions rose only at CPI rates rather than the RPI rates which are usually a percentage point or so, higher, because they include housing costs. A very low CPI rate of 1% allows the government to claim, again falsely, that real wages are rising, but the average pay figures include the huge rises of the very high earners! The RPI figures raise eyebrows too. Don`t we read every week about private tenants being forced to pay massive increases in their rent, or face eviction, as with the recent New Era estate case? Aren`t rents paid to fat cat landlords, often for accommodation in appalling condition, sometimes so high tenants spend 40-50% of their total income on rent? If these huge increases were factored into the RPI calculations, could 2% really be accurate? Real wages rising? I don`t think so.

 With so much data chicanery being used, it`s hard not to reach the conclusion that politicians take us all for mugs, and think we`ll believe anything. Let`s hope the May result proves them wrong/.  

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