The Labour Party has caught Boris Johnson ‘misleading’ MPs and the public in an answer he gave at Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) last month. It was about the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP’s) flagship policy, Universal Credit. But he’s not the first PM to make stuff up about the contentious benefit.
Johnson and the DWP: dodgy numbers?
It was during PMQs on 22 January. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was probing the PM on Universal Credit. He asked about Greggs’ staff bonuses. As The Canary first reported, the DWP may be taking some people’s bonuses off their Universal Credit. So, these people might barely get a bonus at all.
But Corbyn went further. He asked the PM:
The real issue is that many people in work are also in poverty and have to access universal credit, with almost 1 million on zero-hours contracts and more people rough sleeping than ever before. …
The five-week delay for new claimants is leaving people without enough money to cover basic needs. Why is the Prime Minister not taking action to end this punitive and vicious five-week wait for benefits?
Johnson didn’t give a straight answer. Instead, he said:
Universal credit has in fact succeeded in getting 200,000 people into jobs.
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Smelling a rat
Labour’s shadow DWP secretary Margaret Greenwood smelled a rat. The stink was coming from Johnson’s claim about Universal Credit having got “200,000 people into jobs”. Soon after 22 January’s PMQs, she wrote to the UK Statistics Authority. It’s in charge of official stats.
I am writing to express my concern that the Prime Minister’s claim that ‘Universal Credit has in fact succeeded in getting 200,000 people into jobs’ could have been misleading.
She was basing her point on the fact that the DWP and others had not said this. For example, the DWP has said that the 200,000 figure is an “estimated” prediction. Also, this number would only apply when Universal Credit is fully rolled out. And as BBC News reported, this now won’t be until 2024. So, Johnson was wrong to say it’s already got that many people into work. It hasn’t.
there is not enough evidence available to know how strong the link is between welfare policies and employment.
It also noted that the National Audit Office (NAO) said:
the [DWP] will never be able to measure whether Universal Credit actually leads to 200,000 more people in work.
The UK Statistics Authority quickly wrote back to Greenwood. On Tuesday 4 February, it tweeted:
— UK Statistics Authority (@UKStatsAuth) February 4, 2020
It confirmed the 200,000 figure was just an estimate. And it also said it would be “copying” its letter to the PM.
BS: a PM’s job description?
But Johnson is not the first Tory to make this claim at PMQs. As The Canary reported in 2018, Theresa May said much the same thing. She used the 200,000 figure as if it was already happening. Which it isn’t. And it may well never happen.
So it seems that making stuff up about the DWP at PMQs is part of a Tory PM’s job description. All in a days work, if you’re Johnson or May.
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