Last week I posted about one of Stuff’s ‘The Whole Truth’ columns which attempted to fact-check Judith Collins’ claim that 400 people a week are losing their jobs. The BFD subsequently picked up my post and a BFD reader complained to Stuff about their column. Stuff then went back and conflated their original workings with the grants data I had used (which is publicly available). The editor in charge of The Whole Truth project wrote to the complainant:

 “The total number of people granted either the JS benefit or CIRP since the beginning of lockdown (using figures from the week ended 27/3/20) is 136,724 (103,772 JS and 32952 CIRP). The number of people who have gone off one of those benefits into work (“cancelled into work”) is 31,854.”

The latter number is then subtracted. Subtracting “cancellations into work” is wrong. The people cancelling a benefit in any given week are not the people losing their jobs. This type of calculation might be made to estimate the jobs the economy is losing (net difference between jobs dis-established and jobs created) but it doesn’t tell us how many people are losing their jobs each week. For argument’s sake, hypothetically, 100 people might have found a job last week but that doesn’t alter the fact that 400 people lost one.

Recall Stuff’s original article states:

“It was a refrain she [Judith Collins] had repeated several times throughout the debate – 400 people a day are losing their jobs under the current government.”

Back to Stuff’s reply to the BFD reader:

“You then need to subtract the number of people who have been transferred from JS to CIRP or vice versa (5887) so you’re not double-counting.”

That leaves a total of 98,984 people either still receiving JS or CIRP or have had it cancelled/ended for another (unknown) reason. This equates to 572 people a day (173 days between 23 March and 11 September). This assumes that of those, the 36,300 people who were on a benefit but are not anymore are all still jobless.

However, as outlined in the post, this likely overestimates the number of people who are on a benefit because they have lost their jobs, because it counts all Jobseeker recipients. We highlighted ‘work-ready’ recipients, subtracting those on the JS benefit for a health or disability reason. Normally, the proportion of ‘work-ready’ JS recipients is about 57 per cent; this has increased to about 65 per cent during Covid.

Re-running the numbers using 65 per cent of the Jobseeker total, you end up with 62,670 people either still on CIRP or JS or who’ve gone off it for a reason other than finding a job. This is 362 people a day – pretty much the conclusion our original post arrived at (355 jobs a day).

So now they have reverted back to the initial data they used which is net numbers of people on the Jobseeker Benefit. Not grants.

Having found a way back to their original guestimate- albeit via a different method – the editor goes on to say,

“In our view, the substance of the original post is not affected by these alternative calculations…For this reason, I do not intend to update the post or issue any correction or clarification.”

They should.

I’ll try to be succinct.

The data they used in their second attempt, the data that matters,  shows 136,724 grants of JS or CIRP over 173 days. Subtract the transfers between the two – 5,887 – which leaves 130,837. Divide that by 173 days and the number is 756. I repeat, cancellations are irrelevant.

Additionally, on the plus side (indicating a higher number), Stuff does not know how many people have lost their jobs and have

1/ gone on an emergency benefit (for eg non-residents)

2/ gone on a sole parent benefit because they are single with dependent children under 14

3/ gone on Super full-time

4/ returned to a Supported Living Payment (disabled people also work despite not being required to)

5/ not gone on any benefit because they have savings, a secondary source of income into the household, or other reason

6/ returned to or taken up study and gone onto a student allowance

This is not an exhaustive list of alternatives to going on either Jobseeker or CIRP.

On the minus side, there are overseas returnees going on the Jobseeker benefit. They too may have lost their jobs (mainly in Australia) though it might be a stretch to claim Judith was including those people. And there will be people transferring to a Jobseeker benefit from other benefits eg when a sole parent’s youngest turns 14 the parent is transferred from Sole Parent Support to Jobseeker.

Finally, from a journalistic integrity viewpoint, Stuff’s email acknowledges “…her claim of ‘400 jobs lost per day’ is likely to be within the right ballpark of what is happening.”

Yet the original Stuff article begins in bold with this line:

Many jobs are being lost as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. But not 400 a day. It could be less. It could be more. Many more.
Stuff needs to acknowledge that the way they calculated how many people a week are losing their jobs was inadequate and therefore, inconclusive. Their article cannot represent ‘The Whole Truth’ when so many pieces of the jigsaw are missing.

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Stuff Stubbornly Refuse to Issue “Any Correction or Clarification”
Lindsay Mitchell

Lindsay Mitchell

Lindsay Mitchell has been researching and commenting about welfare since 2001. Many of her articles have been published in mainstream media and she has appeared on radio, television and before select committees...