Right wing blogger makes fool of herself

13 Feb

By Mike Treen

A right wing blogger has made a fool of themselves trying to dispute figures first revealed by me in the Dailyblog about how a huge gap had grown up between the number on benefits and the number being recorded as unemployed or jobless in the household labour force survey. She was replying to a column by my colleague Matt McCarten in the Herald on Sunday.

She did a crudely hand-drawn graph allegedly showing that if you combined the numbers on the unemployment benefit with the number on the sickness and invalid benefit you get a completely different picture. Well that is true with a hand drawn picture. However, if you actually use the official numbers from the Department of Statistics website and use an excel spreadsheet to draw the graph the picture is a little different (actually a lot different!).

Here is her graph.

She commented:

The purple line represents the number unemployed; the green line the number of people on the unemployment benefit. But what does it look like if I add the line representing people receiving a sickness or invalid benefit?

There it is. The blueish line. (Apologies for the crude scan and manually added line but I don’t want to spend any more time trying to make this point than I have to.)

The sickness and invalid benefits have increasingly become de facto unemployment benefits. The OECD refers to this phenomena as “medicalisation” of labour market problems. Being long-term unemployed can and does make people ill. It’s a problem all developed countries are grappling with.

Treen however claims:

There was also no significant increase in other working age benefits like sickness, invalid or sole parent benefits to account for the missing number of those receiving the unemployment benefit. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions as to why he would say that.

What you will first notice is she is not actually using the number I referred which combined invalid, sickness and DPB. The much larger number on the DPB has increased only modestly since 1990 which influences the combined number. However, I thought it would be useful to look at the number on sickness, invalid and unemployed combined and see how that number compared to the broader jobless number. It is true that these numbers have been increasing faster than unemployment over time. This is true for all advanced capitalist economies and the reasons are complex. But, even when we combine the benefit numbers, the huge gap between the number on benefits and numbers measured as jobless remains. Here is my graph using officials statistics and the graphing skills of excel rather than a crude drawing.

I wrote the following as a comment on her blog.

Hi Lindsay,

Thanks for trying to rebut my graph. I have redone it for the combined benefit numbers (Unemployed, sickness and invalid together). It shows a somewhat less dramatic but still dramatic gap opening up between numbers on benefits and the broader jobless number. The jobless number goes from being regularly 20-50,000 above the combined benefit number to being 50,000 below the number. Here is your graph when done properly. https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/18076151/Combined%20benefit%20grap.png

Lyndsay has responded to me on The Daily Blog comments as follows:

This is getting very silly.

My blog is http://www.lindsaymitchellblogspot.co.nz

I published your second graph, along with your comment, on February 5. 2 days ago.

My posts are ocassionally duplicated at Breaking Views but that is not my blog.

My graph which I explained was crude because I wasn’t prepared to put in the time on Excel, uses the statistics from here:

It never claimed to a add a line showing a combination of UB,SB and IB. I wrote, “But what does it look like if I add the line representing people receiving a sickness or invalid benefit? ”

Then you say:

“What you will first notice is she is not actually using the number I referred which combined invalid, sickness and DPB. ”

If I had, the line would be HIGHER than the jobless total. I was hesitant to mix the two issues – disability and single parenthood – despite both having historically masked the true level of unemployment.

At September 31, 2013, 304,394 working age (18-64) people were receiving a benefit.

Yet you continue:

“…even when we combine the benefit numbers, the huge gap between the number on benefits and numbers measured as jobless remains.”

In fact if “we combine the benefit numbers” the resulting line would be around 40,000 higher than the jobless line.

Why not further use the “graphing skills of excel” to add in the DPB? Or I can if you’d like. Bit of a waste of time though.

We will only go around in circles.

In summary Mike there are not 100,000 jobless or unemployed people being denied state assistance to which they are entitled.

I reponded once more:

I actually think we are looking at the numbers in different ways. You are looking at absolute numbers in the different categories. I am looking at a realtionship between them.

However let us take the low point of the number recorded in a June year as being unemployed – 2005 with 82,200. Since then this number has doubled to 157,300 in the June year 2012. We would expect the number of beneficiaries to double in a similar way if everyone was getting access appropriately.

The number receiving the unemploymemnt benefit has declined from 66,822 to 64,056. The combined number of unemployed, invalid, and sickness benefits has increaed by only 13% to 211,604.

Now you are correct that that number is above the HLFS measure of the number who are unemployed. But neither number accurately records the number of unemployed people in the country. Most people on sickness and invalid benefits are actually sick or invalid. ACC has contributed by preventing people accessing entitlements through them. Institutionalisation of the sick and disabled has grown out of favour. The aging of the workforce and increased age of national super contributes. In many ways the improved survival rates of modern health care leads to more people living lives with disabilities rather than dying.

My argument is that the only way you can have a doubling of the HLFS measure of unemployment (as inaccurate as it may be) and a freezing of the number on unemployment benefits is by denying entitlement. Including the Sick and invalid numbers doesn’t change that reality since 2005.

(Unite National Director Mike Treen has a blog hosted on the TheDailyBlog website. The site is sponsored by several unions and hosts some of New Zealand’s leading progressive commentators. Mike’s blog will be covering union news and general political comment but the views expressed are his own and not necessarily those of Unite Union.)

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