Thursday, 9 February 2012

The Daily Misleading Statistic

I tend to be of the opinion that the fewer people there are living in material deprivation the better. Normally, I would have considered this an uncontroversial belief but an article that has appeared today on the Daily Mail website has lead me to question if this is the case.

The Daily Mail and Douglas Carswell MP seemed to be of the opinion that fewer people being in deprivation simply shows that the welfare state is failing.
The Daily Mail asserts that the UK is the country with the most households without work in Europe and at the same time has far fewer people who live without a mobile phone, a TV and a holiday than other places in Europe.

According to Douglas Carswell this shows that “that the welfare system is not doing what it is supposed to do. It is meant to help people who need help because they have fallen on hard times, not people who have learned to play the system.”
There’s several things wrong with the logic involved in getting to that conclusion but the first problem with it, is that the premise on which it is based isn’t actually true.

The Mail’s source for these statistics is the EU body Eurostat. Yesterday, Eurostat put out a press release which highlighted that the risk of poverty was rising throughout the EU. As part of this release they included the figures for each EU country on the percentage of households which had a low employment intensity, and the percentage of households which were considered to be materially deprived.
The Daily Mail accurately reported the UK’s relative position in the two series of figures but their inaccuracy can be seen when looking at the definitions of “low employment intensity” and “seriously materially deprived” and how the Daily Mail chose to report them.

Low employment intensity covered households who were working less than 20% of their full potential over the course of a year, this could be someone only working 1 day a week, someone only finding two and a half months work of work, or one person working in a household with five adults. It is not a measure of workless households as the Daily Mail implied in its headline “UK has more homes where nobody has a job than anywhere else in Europe (but more families who can STILL go on holiday, have a TV and a mobile)”.

Luckily for people interested in the actual rate of households without work, Eurostat provide this statistic just a few clicks away from their press release. This shows that the UK actually appears somewhere near the middle on jobless households.

The other problem with the Daily Mail’s reporting is in Eurostat’s definition of “materially deprived”. Eurostats define you as materially deprived if you can’t afford four of the nine items. These items are: the ability to pay the rent or utility bills on time; to keep the house warm; to be able to pay an unexpected bill; to eat meat or fish every second day; to afford a week’s holiday; to run a car; to have a washing machine; to have a colour TV and to have a mobile phone.
The Mail seem to have latched on to the fact that some of the indicators included are owning a mobile, taking a holiday and owning a TV. In fact as those represent only three of the indicators a person could not be able to afford all three of them and still not count as materially deprived.

Whilst the Mail and Douglas Carswell seem to think that this is too much for anyone to have, the majority of people disagree. Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation into what people believe should be the minimum that a family need to get by, for an “adequate” life, found that people said that more than just these few items were needed.

Other problems include: equating out-of-work with workshy thereby ignoring disabled people and single mothers who aren’t able to find work easily (as the Government’s new benefit cap does); that nowhere do the statistics show which people are “playing the system” or have chosen welfare as a “lifestyle choice”; and that many welfare systems in Europe are far more generous than ours.

If anything it should be celebrated that our welfare state lifts people out of the worst of poverty in many cases - but sadly welfare is not as effective as the Daily Mail claims.