Thursday, 3 May 2012

Am I stupider than the Department for Work and Pensions?

Something about last Sunday's Sun has been bothering me all week.

Over the weekend the paper ran a piece detailing not only the vast sums being paid in housing benefit but cited evidence showing recipient numbers were on the up. According to the report there had been a 76% increase in people receiving over £20,000 per year.

But it isn't the rights or wrongs of the payments that has been on my mind, but where these figures came from.

Of course, they probably came from the Department for Work and Pensions. But keep in mind this a place with previous on cherry picking stats for the press to send out a message of extravagance, fraud and idleness about the benefits system. Strangely these numbers would be given to the press, but not published for wider scrutiny.

This got so bad that in 2010 the Department was warned about "serious deficiencies" in the way it fed data to the press.

While the string of stories didn't stop, DWP did at least make a little archive of these tempting, tabloid ready morsels (or ad hoc analyses as they call them) for the rest of us to see.

Which brings us this week. Normally whenever a story like this comes up, my first port of call is the ad hoc analysis page.

But this time no briefing on housing benefits could I find. Same story in the most recent housing benefit bulletin, likewise the Parliamentary answers and Freedom of Information log turned nothing up, even if there was one closely related set of figures.

What is going on? Have DWP lurched back into their murky old ways? Surely they would not be foolish enough to do what they had previously been chided for?

Indeed perhaps I just can't find the data in question, and it is me who is at fault.

If I am missing a obviously placed stats release I will acknowledge the egg on my face, if not the DWP have some questions to answer.

So who is being stupid? Me or the DWP?

It's probably not a binary choice...

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