Saturday, 29 August 2015

Don't look there, look here!

The Thick of It was set in a fictional government department: Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship, or DoSAC. But when I think about our real government, there's no other department I can imagine that would be quite as sitcom-worthy as the DWP.

There are certainly some very clever people in the department. Yesterday's death data was confusing to all who read it. Even very clever professional number crunchers couldn't really get to the bottom of it because the data was so badly presented. This was almost certainly deliberate: The DWP didn't answer what was asked of them, and dumped a load of data that would confuse people who tried to use the data to answer the simple question "how many people are dying after being found fit for work?"

Anyone can release some data while withholding the answer to a question, but the press and public will generally look at the data and find the answer for themselves. To release a bunch of data that's on-topic, but still means that very clever people can't get the answers they're looking for takes Bond-villain levels of evil genius. You have to wonder why someone who can so cleverly pretend to be transparent by releasing opaque data is working in a public sector job, and not using their evil genius skills to make themselves a billionaire.

But then there's the spokespeople who are so bad at sleight of hand that they remind you of a 4 year old trying to do a magic trick by saying "now, if you'll just look out of the window for a moment while I sort this.... OK, you can look back now."

The DWP spokesperson told the BBC for an article:

"The mortality rate for people who have died while claiming an out-of-work benefit has fallen over a 10-year period. This is in line with the mortality rate for the general working-age population.

"The government continues to support millions of people on benefits with an £80bn working-age welfare safety net in place."

None of the three sentences have anything to do with the question asked.

It was either a pathetic attempt at a misdirect ("never mind the terminally ill people we found fit for work. Look! Less people are dying whilst claiming benefits!") or they genuinely didn't understand the question and are akin to a GCSE English student rambling about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when the exam question asked them about Romeo and Juliet.

You can just imagine a Malcolm Tucker type figure in the DWP yesterday, can't you? "We're fucking fucked. The fucking Information Commissioner's Office have fucking ordered us to release this fucking data. I'll tell you what; we'll make it as confusing as fuck and then we'll distract the fucking press with the press release. What parts of the data look good? Less scroungers are dying than a decade ago? Well fucking put that in the fucking press release. It doesn't fucking matter that it's got fuck all to do with the sick cunts dropping dead after we've stopped their benefits. And throw in a fucking brag about how many billions we waste on the scroungers at the end of it."

Either that or their spokesperson is as lacking in smarts as Terri Coverley which is why they were recruited because they would just innocently talk about something completely off topic because they understood the data even less than the press and public.

Poverty Porn is all the rage right now. Not just Benefits Street on C4. Just this week on five they had a "benefits night" with such classy shows as Big Benefits Wedding and 12 years old and on Benefits. Pointing and laughing at poor people is the hot TV trend. But I wanna see inside the DWP. I want to see inside the department that comes out with such ridiculously off-topic press statements. I want to gawp with wonder at the thinking behind sending a spokesperson out to insult the public's intelligence by hoping we won't notice that what they've said is unrelated to the subject at hand. In The Thick of It DoSAC tried to obfuscate around their role in the death of the fictional Phil Tickell. Unfortunately the DWP are trying to downplay their role in potentially thousands of real human beings dying penniless. If it wasn't such a tragic situation, I could very much enjoy an evening watching a fly-on-the-wall show set in the DWP press office as they scramble to say to the press "don't look at that, look at this!"

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