Government fiddles unemployment figures by classifying all people sanctioned as having left claimant count

March 7th, 2014

‘Sanctioning’ is a particularly harsh and brutal way of treating unemployed people.   They have all their benefit removed even for the most trivial infringements, e.g. being 5 minutes late for a job interview or for a work programme session.   Their benefit (£71 a week JSA) is removed for 4 weeks for the first infringement, for 3 months for the second, and (almost unbelievably) for 3 years for the third.   This quickly reduces the victims of this abhorrent policy to destitution and leaves them with no alternative but to beg for board and lodging from family or friends.   There is no appeal against these decisions which could well be regarded as a breach of the common law by deliberately reducing a person to penury by administrative edict against which there is no redress.   There are now nearly a million people who have been subject to this inhumane practice of sanctioning.   That is awful enough, but it has now become clear there is another motive on the part of government driving this policy.

There has been great puzzlement in economic circles at the plunging drop in the unemployment figures over recent months from 7.8% to 7.1% which was far bigger than might be expected from the state of the economy and the very low level of labour productivity.   It even caused consternation in the Bank of England where the governor Mark Carney was forced to revise his ‘forward guidance’ which had been based on raising interest rates when the unemployment level fell to 7%.   It now seems this enigma can be explained.   The government has adopted the utterly dishonest practice of excluding from the claimant count all those persons who have been sanctioned.   Thus the abrupt fall in the claimant count is explained by the scam of regarding all sanctioned persons as no longer seeking work, though they clearly are.

What makes this wheeze even more contemptible is that the Office of National Statistics, set up specifically to verify the accuracy of official statistics, is being denied information by DWP about the impact of sanctioning on the unemployment figures.   It seems that the Tories, having under Thatcher concealed the true levels of unemployment by re-classifying hundreds of thousands as ‘disabled’ instead – a classification from which they are now removing them by having Atos re-classify them back again as ‘fit for work’, have now concocted another fraudulent way of reducing the figures to burnish the Osborne recovery-that-never-was.   They have also massaged the headline unemployment rate by basing it on a sample of just 41,000 or 0.16% of the population which is statistically meaningless.   There seems no limit to Tory mendacity, but this one is certainly going to be nailed.

13 Responses to “Government fiddles unemployment figures by classifying all people sanctioned as having left claimant count”

  1. phayes Says:

    “They have also massaged the headline unemployment rate by basing it on a sample of just 41,000 or 0.16% of the population which is statistically meaningless.”

    Meaningless?! How so? I think the government’d have to massively reduce the size of its lies if it wanted them to be hidden by the variations which that 41,000 household sample yields:

    Unemployment: 2,342,000 ± 82,000 (95% C.I.)
    Unemployment Rate: 7.2% ± 0.2% (95% C.I.)

    http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/lms/labour-market-statistics/february-2014/statistical-bulletin.html#tab-Sampling-Variability

  2. Rolo Says:

    If ATOS are reversing a crime of Thatcher, wouldn’t that mean the actual recovery trend is better than the published figures show?

  3. Big Bill Says:

    Some years ago, when I pointed out this was happening, I was shot down from all sides on the basis that sanctioned people still had to sign on every fortnight and thus would be included in any claimant count. Has something changed?

  4. Pat Sheehan Says:

    Of course it is not only those ‘sanctioned’ who are now apparently being excluded from the figures. I for one was off work for many years with a back injury and resulting chronic pain which has made my life a misery but now I am declared fit for work by Atos and the DWP supported by HM Courts and Tribunals and my P45 was returned to me. I cannot sign on at the Job Centre as ‘fit and ready for work’ as my GP is still signing me off as ‘unfit for all work’ so I am currently claiming no benefit from the DWP and excluded from all statistics presumably. It is a very calculating, unscrupulous but very neat ‘stitch-up’ by ‘the State’ with the Courts in collusion. Just how do you get rid of Government that is quite happy to operate at this level with ‘all-party’ support. We are talking about ‘dictatorship’ here.

  5. Jon Says:

    To Phayes – how is a survey of 41,000 extrapolated out to 60+ million inhabitants in any way statistically meaningful?

    on the issue of the Claimant Count

    “The Claimant Count includes people who claim Jobseeker’s Allowance but who do not receive payment. For example some claimants will have had their benefits stopped for a limited period of time by Jobcentre Plus; this is known as “sanctioning”. Some people claim Jobseeker’s Allowance in order to receive National Insurance Credits.”

    http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/lms/labour-market-statistics/december-2013/statistical-bulletin.html

    this is misleading as it suggests that all people who are sanctioned remain on the claimant count when in reality it is only if they continue to sign on whilst sanctioned that they remain on the claimant count – why would they continue to sign on if they are going to get no money and will get a rapid reclaim in any case.?

    see September 11th 2013 session the following question and answer from the Works and Pension committee

    Q210 Debbie Abrahams: Can I ask you what the effects of that are, both on the claimant and also in terms of what happens once they are off benefits? Presumably, they are off the books and not recorded as receiving JSA, as it is now, so they will not be recorded in the official statistics of people who are jobseekers-people who are on sanctions, and they can be on for two or three months.

    Helen Flanagan: If they receive a sanction, there will be a period of disallowance that follows that as well, so they do have to reclaim, so they do essentially go off benefit, yes.

    my problem with the figures is the ONS is allegedly independent but on the Claimant Count they just take the figures given to them by the DWP and accept them as is – problem with that is the DWP have a huge propensity to be economical with the truth – especially having been found guilty for the 4th time in a year of this charge regarding statistics

    http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/03/06/iain-duncan-smith-dwp-numbers_n_4911277.html

    The figures of the Claimant Count falling include people who have been sanctioned – the problem with that is the ONS say they do not know if the people leaving the Claimant Count have left because of the sanction or because of some other reason ie found work because the DWP ‘allegedly’ don’t know

    However this week “A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “Every day, Jobcentre Plus advisers are successfully helping people off benefits and into work as part of the Government’s long term plan to build a stronger, more secure economy.”

    http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/03/02/welfare-payments-stopped-_n_4886690.html

    if the DWP know they are succesfully helping people off benefit into work then they also know how much of the offlow is due to sanctions – the reality is they don’t to give these figures to the ONS because they wish to manipulate these figures to show unemployment falling.

    The worst aspect of all this is the production of the figures from the ONS that just accepts the figures the DWP gives them and states the claimant count includes people who have been sanctioned when in reality they don’t know – like most figures now produced by government they are basically worthless and contribute greatly in why people no longer have any trust in the political system.

  6. phayes Says:

    To Jon,

    What exactly do you think is wrong with those estimates? The assertion that they are “statistically meaningless” is itelf only meaningful and accurate if the sampling has been badly done and led to large biases or the precisions are [wrong and] too low to support the inferences of interest associated with the estimates.

  7. Jon Says:

    your trust in statistics is somewhat higher than mine especially given the examples I gave you of the DWP’s misuse of them.

    It is worth pointing out you refer to them as estimates because the government certainly doesn’t bother to highlight this but trots the unemployment figures out each month as if they are carved in stone – as you appear to have far more statistical knowledge than I possess I will rephrase the question I asked you but which you didn’t bother to answer.

    how is a survey of 41,000 extrapolated out to 60+ million inhabitants in any way meaningful?

    I note you originally said the ONS states there is a + or – of 82,000 accuracy on their statistics – why does the government not bother to mention even this but crows on every month about every few thousand decrease in the unemployment figures – not only are these figures estimates as you quite rightly say they but they also include those on the work programme, those on ‘workfare’, (a term the DWP somewhat amusingly doesn’t accept in FOI requests – is that because this accurate description is too close to the workhouse they want all poor people to end up in?), as well as those who have been sanctioned –

    It is just like the ‘good old days’ of Thatcher with the government fiddling the figures. It is interesting that for about 18 months economists have been ‘mystified’ as to how unemployment was falling when the real economy showed no similar indicators – there has been little mystery to me as to how that magnificent con trick been achieved

  8. phayes Says:

    Hi Jon

    “how is a survey of 41,000 extrapolated out to 60+ million inhabitants in any way meaningful?”

    Mathematicians would call that “the trivial rephrasing”. Joking aside, possibly you (and Michael) are just unfamiliar with the power of sampling and statistical inference and are thinking that 41,000 seems far too small a number for a sample to faithfully represent the whole, multi-million, population? Well – assuming the ONS has done its job properly – it isn’t too small:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sample_size

    The bigger the sample, the smaller the uncertainty (the smaller the ‘±’ bit) of course, but you don’t actually need very big samples to get usefully and meaningfully precise information.

    “I note you originally said the ONS states there is a + or – of 82,000 accuracy on their statistics – why does the government not bother to mention even this but crows on every month about every few thousand decrease in the unemployment figures ”

    It’d be nice if the government did state the precisions (NB the estimated changes come with separate precisions/uncertainties) but any government deception does seem to be all to do with the kind of systematic errors (fiddlings) which you and Michael have pointed out, rather than to do with misrepresentation of (statistical) uncertainty.

  9. Errrm? Says:

    “They have also massaged the headline unemployment rate by basing it on a sample of just 41,000 or 0.16% of the population which is statistically meaningless. There seems no limit to Tory mendacity, but this one is certainly going to be nailed.”

    Which is the Labour Force Survey, the same sample survey that was used to measure unemployment throughout the last Labour government……and the Tory government before that.

    So, if the use of this measure of unemployment shows no limit to Tory mendacity, complaining about it would seem to show no limit to Labour hypocrisy.

  10. Jon Says:

    As I said, your trust in statistics is somewhat higher than mine especially given the examples I gave you of the DWP’s misuse of them.

    I take it then your trust in government statistics means that 0.8% of the UK’s total population were actually Jedi (which is interestingly a somewhat higher figure than the 0.16% used for the Labour Force Survey and 390.000+ people rather than 41,000)

    “In England and Wales 390,127 people (almost 0.8%) stated their religion as Jedi on their 2001 Census forms, surpassing Sikhism, Judaism, and Buddhism, and making it the fourth largest reported religion in the country.[24] ”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jedi_census_phenomenon#United_Kingdom

    On a more important note, you haven’t disputed the main point Michael Meacher was claiming; which was that Government fiddles unemployment figures by classyfying all people sanctioned as having left claimant count – the “claimant count” statistics come directly from the DWP to the ONS and as far as I am aware have nothing to do with the Labour Force Survey.

  11. stewart hall Says:

    the unemployment figures are also rigged by the government classifying people has self employed when they are not. people that i know that have been made redundant and when they went to sign on, where told they if they register self employed will get £60 part time or £80 full time self employment payments. they are told they don’t have to set up a business or do anything the payment is still made. they are also told it is good for there c.v. it looks like they have no gaps in their employment history or have the stigma of being one of the unemployed scroungers.

  12. Mike Says:

    “They have also massaged the headline unemployment rate by basing it on a sample of just 41,000 or 0.16% of the population which is statistically meaningless.”

    No. First of all, the headline unemployment rate has *always* been based on the Labour Force Survey; this is *required* by the EU and is recognized by the ILO. It isn’t some Tory plot to “massage” the figures – that’s one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard. How on earth did he think it was determined before? Secondly, 41,000 is an *extremely large* sample size and is sufficient to give an estimate of the unemployment rate that we can say, with 95% certainty, is the “true” (population) value, plus or minus 2 percentage points. This is assuming the sample is random, which it is (it’s a random sample of the Postcode Address File); here is the [methodology](http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/guide-method/method-quality/quality/quality-information/labour-market/quality-and-methodology-information-for-the-labour-force-survey–lfs-.pdf). This is quite basic statistics.

    It scares me that you are an MP.

  13. Rob Says:

    The unemployment figures also omit many of those over 50 who have been placed on self-employment training schemes.

    I was placed on one such scheme, told to write a business proposal, claimed about £66 a week as New Enterprise Allowance (which went down to £33 after 13 weeks).

    When I returned to the Jobcentre I was treated as a fresh claim (even though I was never in work and did not earn anything).

    Furthermore the Jobcentre monitored my bank account and my Amazon account over this period.

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