Is it true that JobCentre Plus has moved 8,000 people, in households that would have been affected by the benefit cap, into work?

by richardhutton

This is the claim currently being made by the Department for Work and Pensions as quoted by the BBC:

The government says JobCentre Plus has already moved 8,000 people in households that would have been affected by the cap into work. So that saving in benefit payments, and potential extra tax revenue, falls in this year.

Iain Duncan Smith is quoted saying that “The benefit cap sets a clear limit for how much support the welfare state will provide – the average wage for working households. But it’s also a strong incentive for people to move into work and even before the cap comes in we are seeing thousands of people seeking help and moving off benefits”. The implication is very clear: once people were notified of the benefit cap, they realised they needed to find work – and the Jobcentre duly helped them.

Is this true? Not if the DWP’s own data is anything to judge by. They released an ad-hoc analysis of “Jobcentre Plus Activity regarding claimants who have been identified as potentially impacted by the benefit cap”; which notes that:

“Since claimants were notified of the benefit cap: Jobcentre Plus has helped around 8,000 claimants identified as potentially capped households into work”

What this would actually mean, in a more objective and less manipulative idiom, is that since the Benefit Cap was announced, 8,000 people who would be affected stopped being classified as unemployed. This itself means absolutely nothing, because the benefit cap applies to a range of benefits; and people are removed from jobless statistics for a number of reasons – not least of all through being referred to the Work Programme or the Community Action Programme. This is aside from what, precisely, the Jobcentre has actually done to help people into work.

The source for this figure is cited as an “LMS* data feed 29.03.2013” drawn from “LMS pilot markers captured as of 29 March 2013”. There is no link provided. However, even this sleazy, misleading report says that: “The figures for those claimants moving into work cover all of those who were identified as potentially being affected by the benefit cap who entered work. It is not intended to show the additional numbers entering work as a direct result of the contact”. This very simple fact has not stopped the DWP and its cheerleaders claiming success.

*LMS stands for Labour Market System: a computer database managed by the Jobcentre.

Update: Jonathan Portes has spoken about the political misrepresentation of these statistics via the BBC:  “there is no evidence one way or the other whether there is behavioural change. I think this is, I am afraid, a consistent pattern of trying to draw out of the statistics things which they simply don’t show”. For an example of just how blatantly this data is being distorted, see ‘Thousands taking jobs ‘because of Iain Duncan Smith’s benefits cap’: He says reforms are changing behaviour’ by Time Shipman, in the Daily Mail. This was published on the 30th March – two weeks before the DWP made the stats publicly available. There can be no real doubt that the department is providing the Daily Mail with misleading briefings, which it repeats unreflectively, and without subsequent corrections.