While the headlines are still dominated by the fallout from last night’s vote on an EU referendum, the controversial motion was not the only interesting piece of business conducted in the Commons yesterday.
In a lively Work and Pensions Questions, Employment Minister Chris Grayling was forced to justify the Government’s decision not to publish figures on the Work Programme’s funding.
In response to questions from Labour’s Stephen Timms, Mr Grayling said:
“The right hon. Gentleman clearly was not listening to the answer I gave a moment ago, but he would also do well to remember that his Government set up the current rules on national statistics. He would surely want statistics to be published properly and in an appropriate time frame, under the guidance of the UK Statistics Authority. I do not believe in giving information out haphazardly.”
While it is of course welcome to hear a Government Minister affirm his Department’s commitment to ensuring that statistics are produced with sufficient rigour, it is perhaps worth noting that the UK Statistics Authority has previously found “serious deficiencies” in the Department for Work and Pensions’ use of figures.
Last year Full Fact alerted the watchdog to the way in which statistics were being produced for the press without them being made available for full public scrutiny.
And before the last general election, Chris Grayling himself was warned by the same organisation that his use of crime statistics might “mislead” the public.
The DWP to its credit has moved to fix some of the shortcomings identified by the UK Statistics Authority. It now publishes briefings produced outside the normal release schedule in an ‘ad hoc research’ section of its website, for example.
However its work is not yet complete. Full Fact, the Statistics Authority and the Chair of the Work and Pensions committee Anne Begg have all highlighted problems in the way in which the Department presents data on disability claimants, which allows scope for the kind of distortion we have time and again seen in the newspapers.
So while we applaud the sentiments offered by Chris Grayling, we will be watching closely to ensure that these translate into action.