“Benefits spending up £6.4billion in just three months,” cries the Daily Telegraph.This is simply not true.
What is true is that the predicted costs of the total welfare system over the next 5 years have been revised upwards by a grand total of 0.6%. Most of the 0.6% change is estimated to happen in five years time and therefore should be taken with a pinch and a half of salt. (The reference to three months is because the Telegraph has compared five year estimates published in December 2012 with five year estimates published last week; this is not about actual money that has actually been spent).
In order to get to the “£6.4billion” figure, the Telegraph engaged in a practice called “quintuple counting” where instead of looking at year on year changes they chose to count the 1st year change five times, the second years change four times etc. Suffice to say when Gordon Brown engaged in lesser offence of “triple counting” the Daily Telegraph was righteously (and justifiably) enraged.
You may or may not be reassured to know that the Office for Budget Responsibility predicts that the proportion of taxes going on welfare will actually fall over the next five years and that the proportion of national income spent on welfare will fall over the next five years. “Will the level of need fall?” is the real question, but very few in positions of power appear interested in asking it.
Why the myth of spiralling welfare persists
We know that the proportion of taxes spent on welfare has stayed remarkably constant for over two decades, yet phrases like “spiralling welfare budget” and “welfare bill going through the roof” are used repeatedly. The numbers in this article are just garnish – it is these impressions the reader is meant to take away.
So far the article sounds fairly typical in terms of #liesaboutpoverty – not as grossly factually inaccurate as their “£10 Billion pound tax credit fraudsters” headline, nor as offensive as “These fake disabled are crippling our economy” but flowing from the same editorial line. In this article it is the reporting and quotes underneath the falsehood that are really interesting.
This article implies that the Daily Telegraph wants to see the welfare budget reduced and (from the articles quoted above at least) it appears that lack of evidence is not necessarily an impediment to promoting this view.
The Labour Party was asked for a comment on the facts behind the article. Fearing an article about Labour complacency in the face of “spiralling welfare bills” or possibly seeing an opportunity to score political points, Liam Byrne MP did not challenge the inaccuracy of the original story, but instead reinforced it, saying : “This Government talks tough on welfare but their failure to end Britain’s jobs crisis is locking millions out of work and sending the benefits bill through the roof.”
The Government spokesman interviewed for the story also did not challenge the assertion that the welfare bill is “spiralling” but blamed the rise on the inflation linked up-rating of benefits. The assertion that welfare payments are out of control has been used by the Government to justify £18 billion+ cuts to working age-families support and benefit payments. This impression of a spiralling welfare budget is not one that the Government would wish to challenge.
Everyone who “matters” has an interest in saying that the welfare bill is out of control. Sensible measures show it is not (nor has been) out of control. That is not to say the spending is at the right level or that the system is without fault, but the accusation that the poorest caused the deficit or are sucking up more of our nation’s wealth is groundless.
When I write “everyone who matters” I miss one group – a group of people who don’t own newspapers, people who don’t write for the Telegraph or other newspapers for that matter, people who rarely vote, who rarely join political parties and even more rarely get into Parliament.
At the beginning of Christ’s ministry he read in the synagogue from Isaiah that this was this forgotten group to whom he had come to bring good news. As his followers we should do the same and show little tolerance to those who those who offer them only fabrications and bad news.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor ….. to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” (Luke 4: 16ff)”
Full text here: http://niv.scripturetext.com/luke/4.htm
A more comprehensive analysis of the Myths surrounding welfare and poverty read