Philosopher Harry G Frankfurt once defined \”bullshit\” as distinct from lying. Lying requires an engagement with the truth, whereas the former represents instead a \”lack of connection to a concern with truth\” and an \”indifference to how things really are\”. And these two themes seem to run through the government\’s dialogue with the public over changes to housing benefit.
The housing benefit shakeup – a deficit-cutting measure from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) intended to remove £1bn of government subsidy from the private rental sector – was introduced to parliament with the remarkable claim from the chancellor, George Osborne, that \”there are some families receiving £104,000 a year in housing benefit\”. This figure, challenged at the time by the Telegraph and Full Fact, was shown to be misleading. The DWP refused to release data validating the claim, instead directing enquirers to a search of the Daily Mail and the Sun newspaper websites, neither of which is a conventional source of high-quality benefit statistics. Since then, the DWP has continued to use similar figures in press releases and media interviews to justify the fairness of policies where \”hard working families no longer have to subsidise people living in properties they themselves could not afford\”. Assuming, in good faith, that the DWP were not repeating discredited claims, we submitted an freedom of information request for their evidence:
Ooooh, gosh, that\’s interesting.
So, this FOI request showed that the Tories are a bunch of lying scumbags, did it?
The response (reproduced above) stated that in December 2010 there were \”around 10 housing benefit claimants eligible for £1,917 or more per week\”.
Err, no, it showed that they were telling the truth. Which is of course a result sufficiently unexpected that it makes the FOI request entirely justified.