Sunday 15 September 2013

Tory policy: Destroy the evidence

Note the disappearance of the tick box section from the original JobcentrePlus form (left) on the new form (right) which was introduced at the same time as "Bedroom Tax" and a host of welfare cuts in April 2013.

In April 2013 Iain Duncan Smith's woefully mismanaged Department for Work and Pensions furtively cancelled the collection of data on the reasons they have been referring people to food banks.

Prior to the introduction of "bedroom tax" and a range of wide ranging welfare cuts in 2013, the DWP food bank referral form included a section to indicate the reason for the referral (benefit delay, benefit change, refusal of crisis loan). After April 2013 this section was removed.

These referral statistics had been used by the Trussell Trust (one of the UK's largest food bank networks) to utterly demolish Anthony David "Lord" Freud's ludicrous claims that the soaring number of people reliant upon food banks had nothing to do with his welfare reforms (here's an article outlining some of the Trussell Trust's statistics).

What is even worse than their efforts to bury these inconvenient statistics is the frankly disgusting rhetoric coming from high profile members of the Conservative party. Who could forget Freud's ludicrous claims that the ever increasing numbers of people relying on food banks are just idle people scrounging "free commodities". Then there's Michael Gove and his revolting "blame the victim" narrative that families turn to food banks because of "poor financial management".

According to the Tories, three straight years of wage repression and countless welfare cuts have nothing to do with the ever increasing numbers of people using food banks. Instead, we are supposed to believe that the numbes of scroungers and financially incompetent people have grown by some 900% since the Tories came to power! How riddled with right-wing confirmation bias would you have to be to accept such transparently ludicrous claims?

The food bank referral boxes are far from the first time that inconvenient statistics have done magical disappearing acts under this government. In August 2013 it was revealed that there had been an alarming 23,400 spike in the official death rate, with the over-80s particularly badly affected. Literally within days of the statistics reaching the public, it was announced that the death rate statistics would no longer be collected.

We can look to Iain Duncan Smith's department for another shocking example: In 2012 some official DWP research found that 10,600 people had died within weeks of being stripped of their disability benefits as a result of Atos administered Work Capacity Assessments. This alarming number didn't even include the number of people stripped of their disability benefits entirely! No data on their fate was collected at all, but there are several examples of people to have died within days of being declared "fit for work" (such as Brian McArdle) to suggest that this data should be collected.

Instead of launching an official inquiry, trying to confirm whether there is any kind of causal link between the WCA regime and these deaths and widening the scope to check the fates of those declared "fit for work" too, the DWP decided to make sure that the research was discontinued.

A government that gives a damn about the civilian population would surely want to find out more about why people are dying, and why soaring numbers of people are living in "food poverty" in one of the richest countries in the World. Instead, the Tories are intent on actively burying evidence that makes them look bad, by discontinuing the collection of "inconvenient statistics" and what is worse, making up grotesque "blame the victim" narratives in order to deflect blame away from themselves and their rotten policies.

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