False and misleading information: When will it end?

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This article intends to discuss the numerous ‘false and misleading figures’ in which the current government have been accused of using.

The issue was highlighted this week following the UK Supreme Court ruling in R (on the application of Reilly and another) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2013] UKSC 68. The outcome? Here are the two versions, the first an independent writer, the second a government statement:

“Yesterday, a young graduate won her claim against the government’s back-to-work scheme. She argued that the regulations and the manner of their implementation were unlawful. Despite taking its case all the way to the Supreme Court, the government lost on three separate grounds.”

And

“The Supreme Court has affirmed the principle underlying the government’s back-to-work scheme. Standing outside the court, yesterday, a young graduate announced through her lawyer that she was considering taking the case to Europe. Meanwhile, the government says the scheme goes on.”

Business consultant Simon Carne comments, ‘Both of these statement are quite correct. And, no, they don’t refer to two different cases. Press coverage leans towards the first presentation. But the Department for Work Pensions (DWP) favours the second.’[1]

Legal tweeter David Allan Green (@Jackofkent) tweeted that the DWP response was ‘incorrect and misleading’.[2]

This could be easily dismissed as a one off or even as a difference in interpretation, however, this article will highlight an additional three recent cases where similar issues have been raised:

Count 1. The Ministry of Justice’s incorrect figures

The MOJ has been tenaciously accused of using misleading figures to push forward in their crusade against legal aid. The standard government response to the opposition against the cuts is by now trite;

“At around £2bn a year, we have one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world. At a time when everyone has to tighten their belts, we can no longer close our eyes to the fact legal aid is taxpayers’ money and it is costing too much.”

The Guardian argue that “The MoJ’s own statistics bulletin from 25 June 2013 shows that not only is this statement inaccurate, it is damagingly misleading.” Going on to back this up with solid evidence. “The figures show that spending on the British criminal justice system is falling and has been for a number of years. In 2009-10, the total criminal legal aid spend was £1.12bn, which fell by £146m (13%) to £975m in 2012-13. Similarly, the figure for very high cost cases, the most complex criminal trials involving terrorism and serious crime, has almost halved over the same period, falling from £124m in 2007-08 to £67m in 2012-13.[3]

An excellent article analysing this in more detail by Joseph O’Leary, published on Full Fact, an independent, non-partisan fact checking organisation (@FullFact) can be found at http://fullfact.org/factchecks/most_expensive_legal_aid_system_world-29230

Guilty or not guilty? You decide.

Count 2- The Home Office’s ‘Go home’ vans.

During July this year the government trialled a large advertising campaign on vans driven around several London Boroughs. These vans looked like this:

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The Home office said, ‘data used to support the “106 arrests” figure was the most reliable and recent information on arrests made by the west, north and east London immigration compliance and enforcement teams, and from seven police custody suites in the six pilot boroughs, during the week beginning June 30.’

After an impartial investigation by the Advertising Standards Authority the following news headlines broke:

“A government advertising campaign that used billboards on vans to tell illegal immigrants to “go home” has been banned by the Advertising Standards Authority for using misleading statistics.”[4]

Surprise, surprise. Furthermore, Home Secretary Theresa May told Parliament last week that, in hindsight, the vans were “not a good idea”.[5]

Guilty or not guilty? You decide.

Count 3- The Department of Health’s care bill and its misleading figures.

The Department of Health has put forward a bill in relation to proposed changes to care home fee caps. The proposed figure would mean that residents in a care home would not have to pay more than £72,000 before the cap was reached.

However, Edward Malnick states;

“The Coalition’s pledge to overhaul care by introducing a £72,000 cap on care costs is misleading because it excludes tens of thousands of pounds in accommodation fees, it was claimed.

The research found that the cost of care itself amounted to only an average annual bill of £28,367.

It would take more than five years for a resident to reach the £72,000 cap, by which time they would also have paid £62,159 in accommodation costs, the study found.

The average spending on overall care home costs before the cap was triggered would therefore be £134,159, it concluded.”[6]

This goes to show just a further example of how the government seem to be using incorrect figures to mislead the public.

Guilty or not guilty? You decide.

If one was to conclude the government has misled the public by way of one or more of the charges listed above, it would be a damming verdict for the government. However, this would seem to have little or no effect on bringing about any form of accountability. Furthermore, it would seem that these issues being highlighted do not even deter the continued use of such misleading tactics. It seems quite frankly, a preposterous proposition that the continued use of such misleading information can be allowed to go largely unchallenged and unnoticed by the general public. A greater challenge can be brought about by increasing awareness and bringing the issues further into the mind of the public at large.

“Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them.” – Frederick Douglass

Dale Timson

LLB (Honours) Student & Aspiring Barrister

02/11/2013

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