DWP answers PQ about press briefings

10 November 2010

 In September, Full Fact became concerned that the Department for Work and Pensions (DPW) had been briefing the media using data unavailable for public scrutiny. Several newspapers had written articles based on figures sent to them by the DWP concerning long-term unemployment, while the raw data from which these figures had been extracted remained unreleased.

Over the ensuing weeks, this practice of releasing ad hoc figures by the Department was repeated — something which we, as campaigners for transparent and accountable public debate, were troubled by.

In an attempt to elucidate these mysterious statistics, we drafted a Parliamentary Question to be submitted to the Work and Pensions Secretary asking when his Department had "released to the media figures... on the number of people who have never been in employment", and what its sources had been.

The PQ was tabled by Anne Begg, Chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee. Yesterday, Chris Grayling submitted an answer in which he reveals... nothing substantial at all.

The DWP has confirmed the widespread suspicion that they are "routinely asked by the media for figures regarding employment", and that in answering these questions they use "a variety of sources". Beyond this, we are no further enlightened about the press briefings than previously.

Whether or not the numbers used by the DWP turn out to be flawed, we believe that they may fail official standards on the transparency of statistics released by Government departments. It is, for instance, forbidden to "selectively quote favourable data from any unpublished dataset."

We have referred this issue to the UK Statistics Authority, who are currently considering whether official guidance has been breached.

Full Fact will await a responses from the Minister and the UKSA before taking further action on the matter.

For future updates, follow us on Twitter or here on the blog.

Full Fact fights bad information

Bad information ruins lives. It promotes hate, damages people’s health, and hurts democracy. You deserve better.