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Welfare: 'stick to the facts'

Britain’s Free Churches have attacked the Government – including the Prime Minister – this week over their ‘misleading’ and ‘wrong’ use of statistics to explain welfare policy.

Truth and LiesThe Joint Public Issues Team (JPIT) of our Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist and the United Reformed Church has long been campaigning against Government and media misuse of statistics to denigrate the poor. On Monday it issued a statement in the wake of the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) response to comments made by Archbishop Vincent Nichols’ criticism to welfare reform.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph Mr Nichols said the reform was a ‘disgrace’ as the safety net for the poorest families had been ‘torn apart’.

The DWP responded by stating that welfare reforms will ‘transform’ the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities with universal credit, ‘making three million households better off and lifting hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty.’

However, this was misleading, said JPIT, for it only shows a carefully selected 'airbrushed' picture of UK welfare reform.

‘It neglects to mention that its own figures also state that over the long term 2.8 million families will be worse off under the new system.

‘Analysis by the Institute of Fiscal Studies shows conclusively that, taken together, the raft of tax and benefit changes that make up welfare reform will increase the levels of both child and working age poverty.’

On Wednesday the churches responded again, this time following a piece in The Telegraph by Prime Minister David Cameron.

In the article Mr Cameron rejected Mr Nichols’ claim that government welfare reform is leaving people in destitution.
He said the system needed reform, and was about giving people ‘new purpose, new opportunity, new hope’.

Mr Cameron claimed that the number of workless households doubled over the last decade.

However, JPIT and the Church of Scotland, which together published the Truth and Lies report last year to dispel six myths about poverty, pointed out that data from the Office for National Statistics shows the number of workless households increased from 3.7 million in 1997 to 3.9 million in 2010, not 7.4 million as his claim would suggest.

The statement also stated that claims regarding the long-term unemployed and housing benefit were wrong.
‘Mr Cameron repeats tired and discredited numbers which paint an inaccurate picture of ‘welfare dependent’ families spending years on benefits and receiving huge amounts of money,’ said Paul Morrison, Public Issues Policy Adviser and author of the Truth and Lies report.

‘If Mr Cameron can’t even understand his own figures, how will he ever grasp the reality of UK poverty?

‘We have spent this past year campaigning and writing to Mr Cameron and his ministers about how his Government’s misuse of statistics denigrates the poor – and we have yet to receive either explanation or correction. 

‘It is disappointing that the response to the Archbishop has been characterised by misleading numbers from the DWP Press Office on Monday and straightforwardly untrue numbers from the Prime Minister on Wednesday.

‘Last year half a million people relied on foodbanks, this year we expect that number to be much higher. The key question – why Churches and charities are seeing more people in abject destitution - remains unanswered.

‘Mr Cameron says he wants to stick to the facts, and that is the fact he urgently needs to address.’
Baptist Times, 20/02/2014
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