Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics, Government Statistics and Daily Express Statistics

Today the daily express published a hate filled story – you can see the headline in the image below if you don’t want to grace their website with your hits.
Friday's Daily Express front page - "4m scrounging ... on Twitpic

Two stats there – 4million “scroungers” and 370,000 never worked households..
Both of these are derived from an Office of National Statistics bulletin

Take the 4million figure. Actually, it’s 3.88million, but whats 112,000 households between friends? We’ll accept that sleight of hand I guess, they have rounded up legitimately.
The real deception comes next.. of that 3.88m, 2.92m are classed as economically “inactive”. This includes those on disability benefits; people staying at home to raise children or care for adults; and students, amongst others who are not able to look for work. (I don’t know if this would include refugees who are legally not allowed to work?)
Just 583,000 households have all adults classed as unemployed (ie, in theory they are available for work – assuming they can actually find a job – there are currently nearly 2.5m unemployed and just 260,000 vacancies at job centres – a rate of 5.7 applicants per job (so whilst it may be true that anybody can get a job, it is certainly not true that everybody can).
[edit: I’ve just realised that there’s around 400,000 households missing here – 2.92m inactive + 583,000 unemployed = ~3.5m.. where are the rest of the 3.88m topline figure?]

I’m not sure if it would be possible to find statistics that would tell us how that economically inactive category splits up, it’s not as simple as looking at the number of benefit claimants, because these numbers are about households, not individuals, so there will be some disability benefit claimants who live with partners who do work, and that household would not be counted in this.
Likewise, with students, we could get a number of FE and HE students (bear in mind these stats are for 16-64 year olds, so should include FE students as part of the household and not as a dependent child – certainly will include any 16 year old that has left home for whatever reason). It would be reasonable to assume that most of these will be an individual (which counts as a household, see next paragraph), but working out how many of them do not work would likely be impossible. There are lots of statistical resources out there, and perhaps with the time it could be done. Likewise, working out how many households are economically inactive because the adults are looking after children or caring for other adults is probably possible, but I’m not going to do it now. I suspect the express would be quite supportive of the idea of a parent staying at home to look after their children, but perhaps I am wrong.

We should not forget that a “household” does not mean a family. I am a single man, no kids, living in a shared house. I am a household, so are each of my housemates. Getting any kind of breakdown of that number to come to understand how many of those half a million unemployed households are actually simply unemployed people is probably going to be next to impossible, and I’m not going to look for it this morning. It’s not overly important anyway, but worth remembering given the overall emotional tone of the express piece.. basically the point is that a workless household is not necessarily what it sounds like.

Now lets look at the 370,000 figure for households that have never worked. In the article it states, quite cleary, that 73,000 of those are students.. As the stats are for 16-64 year olds, this presumably includes FE students. I guess those scroungers could have had a paper round when they were 13/14 right? That’s why they are scroungers.. not because they are getting an education and training to allow them to be productive members of their community or to better themselves. Ditto for HE students, who will certainly be included in this number.
So we can immediately knock nearly 20% off the stat given in the headline (or what it’s intended to show)

That leaves us with 297,000 households that have never worked. The first question I have is how many of those households consists of an individual 16-18 year old? With youth unemployment at 20%, it can be hard for a school or college leaver to find work. Give them a few years though, and they’ll have a job.
The express article is clearly painted to make us think that there are 370,000 homes with 2 adults and 2.4 kids (although in their minds it’s probably more like 24 kids, you know how the feckless poor like to breed) in which neither parent has ever had a job, when the reality is quite likely to be very different. Would anyone really say that an 18 year old, who has just finished a college course, and been unemployed for less than a month, is a scrounger? That person would count as one of these households, just the same as a household with two 50 year old parents who have never worked and have no desire to look for or find a job.

Another interesting thing is that in fact this number has fallen by 38,000 in the past year (because of a fall in the number of inactive people, rather than the number of unemployed people).
The express of course ignores the short term fall in favour of a headline designed to denigrate an already marginalised group of people.
The fact that the number of households which have never worked has doubled since 1996 is a more interesting statistic, and one which could be interesting to investigate. My instinct says that this is a result of increased levels of unemployment since the end of the post-war consensus, and the implementation of monetarism & neo-liberalism in the mid-70s, cemented by Thatcherism. 17 years after Thatcher comes to power, we start seeing a significant rise in adults who have never worked – possibly because of the significant rise in unemployment seen under Thatcher.
The fact that there are 300,000 households that have never worked is a scandal. The distortion of the statistics to attack and denigrate a group of people, as part of a sustained campaign by the daily express to vilianise benefit claimants is a disgrace. Just £1.2bn is taken in benefit fraud (DWP PDF), meanwhile over £2bn is lost in errors made by DWP, and at the same time, £70bn gets “scrounged” through tax evasion and £25bn lost to errors at HMRC (I’ve not mentioned the £25bn tax avoidance, because it is not directly comparable to benefit fraud or errors). (Tax Research UK PDF)
How much ink does the express spend attacking people who evade paying tax? What about those who avoid it? I know avoidance is not illegal, but it still is a cost to the taxpayer, who are footing the bill for services used by companies and wealthy individuals who create sometimes elaborate schemes whose only purpose is to shift profits offshore to avoid paying tax.

The whole thing is designed to drive a wedge in the working class, between those who currently have or are able to work, and those who don’t or can’t. By creating an “other” within our class, the ruling class get to divide and rule. The real scroungers aren’t those on benefits, but those who live off the labour of others. We need to keep our anger and attention foccused on the bosses, and the propaganda outlets that support them.

It’s unfortunate that the only people who read this are likely to be those who already know what lying scum the express are. It would be worth pointing out to anyone you hear regurgitating those stats that in fact only 500,000 households are unemployed, and the 370,000 never worked statistic is so undefined that it is worthless.

See also: Tentacles of Doom: More hate from the Daily Express

Newsframes: Scrounging Families who looked into the ONS statistics to show that the number of workless households has actually decreased since 1996, with an increase since the recession (although the number of households that have never worked doubling is not challenged), and takes down the claim that we are spending ever increasing amounts of money on benefits.
Well worth reading as it takes apart the figures in a different way to me

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  1. Pingback: Why you should be joining the anti-ATOS day of action on Friday « Brum Protestor Rants

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