Monday, 13 May 2013

Misuse of statistics

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

I suppose it has to be expected from politicians, but it really annoys me when they start throwing around erroneous statistics to support their prejudiced policies. A case in point is Iain Duncan Smith and his attempt to justify benefit caps in terms of getting people back into work. He recently claimed "already we've seen 8,000 people who would have been affected by the cap move into jobs. This clearly demonstrates that the cap is having the desired impact".

Fortunately Andrew Dilnot, the Chair of the UK Statistics Authority, has pointed out to Duncan Smith that his comments were "unsupported by the official statistics published by the department". In an open letter he noted that the figures used by the Minister were "not intended to show the additional numbers entering work as a direct result of the contact". You can see a report of this story in the Guardian, which also has a link to the letter that was sent to Duncan Smith.

The problem is, however, that this correction will not have been seen by many voters who will just remember the original comments by the Minister and probably be unaware that it has been challenged.

Another example is Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who has suggested that many immigrants come to Britain in order to obtain to claim benefits and obtain free treatment from the National Health Service. As Jonathan Portes, Director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research has pointed out, there is no evidence for this assertion and immigrants from the new EU member states actually pay almost a third more in taxes than they cost in benefits and services.

What we often seem to get from government ministers these days is not so much evidence based policies as policy based evidence, where unsupported “facts” are used to justify dogmatically based policies.

Turning to a completely different matter, Gus is absolutely buzzing this morning. As a long time Watford supporter he is still on cloud nine after the Hornets astonishing last minute win over Leicester yesterday in the Championship Play Off Semi-Final Second leg. In a dramatic end to the match Leicester had a penalty saved and then Watford broke away for Troy Deeney to score the winner. Come on You 'Orns! Next stop Wembley!

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