Dept for Work and Pensions comms chief: Guardian inaccuracies mean it is not fit to join IPSO


Director of Communications at the Department of Work and Pensions Richard Caseby is a former managing editor of The Sun and the Sunday Times

Whatever else, most people would agree that welfare reform is complex and challenging.

Any major changes to a system which aim to help people lift themselves out of poverty and stay out of poverty are bound to attract passionate debate. Criticism is expected and welcomed in a democratic society policed by the fourth estate.
But why is it that the national newspaper which devotes the most coverage to welfare reform reports on it with such pinpoint inaccuracy?
Is it ineptitude or ideology? Is it the innumeracy of its journalists? Day after day, Alan Rusbridger's Guardian gets its facts wrong.
Within weeks of my starting as the Director of Communications at the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), Polly Toynbee stuck the knife in, saying people "could forget factual information" now I had been appointed. It was a typical Guardian smear based on the evidence of absolute zilch.
Toynbee managed to throw in two inaccuracies of her own about Personal Independence Payments (PIP) and Disability Living Allowance (DLA). So much for "forgetting factual information". Exquisitely, her apology and corrections run to almost a quarter of the length of her original column.
Does the Guardian learn from its mistakes? No chance.
It soon codded up a front page splash "Huge surge in workers tied to zero-hours deals" which stated that these "contracts had tripled to 1.4m". Wrong, and wrong again.  The paper's analysis of the statistics – a car crash of data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Labour Force Survey – was so awful the story crumbled to dust.
This was despite a departmental briefing and a warning from the ONS prior to publication. The story was such a mess an MP has made a formal complaint to the ONS about the Guardian's incompetence.
The "clarification" (but no apology or expression of regret) was hidden away on page 41. No memorial, no headstone. Tough luck on anyone who might have believed the splash first time round. And there you have it: every day is a good day to bury bad news on the Guardian.
A few days later up popped another headline: "Department of Work and Pensions is government's worst at providing living wage". As a hack for many years, I can appreciate the alluring symmetry of connecting the department of work as the worst employer in Whitehall. It's got a nice snap to it, hasn't it? Trouble is, not proven.
How can the DWP be the worst when, at the Guardian's own admission, nine other government departments and agencies were unable to provide any data on wages? Any league table was destined to fail. Well, the Guardian's still dragging its heels on correcting that one properly.
And so it goes on.
In an affidavit to the Leveson Inquiry into the media, Chris Elliott, the Guardian Reader's Editor, flourished a quote from John F Kennedy: "An error does not become a mistake until you refuse to correct it."
Well, you're no John Kennedy, Mr Elliott. Truth is, the only way to extract a correction from the Guardian is to treat it like a landed eel. Stand on its head until it spits one out. It's that slippery.
And yet this conflict is all so unnecessary. Error is a natural consequence of assimilating information at speed. You do your best to limit it. An acceptance of error is all the more important in a connected world where every reader has infinite evidence only a click away.

You look foolish when you resist the inevitability of the truth. You look good when you're responsive to readers and complainants. But the deal is you've got to make a basic effort to get it right in the first place.
The Guardian is drifting into choppy waters again. When Mr Rusbridger waged war on News International, he and his staff got so giddy with the factoids they ended up publishing the longest correction in British newspaper history. It took days of standing on the eel, but it spat one out in the end.
Today the same hysteria is creeping into the Guardian's coverage of the DWP, whose thousands of staff are working hard to introduce the biggest reforms for 60 years.

Having visited Jobcentres around the country, I've seen first-hand my colleagues' desire to help jobseekers set themselves on a path to a new future; to introduce a system where it always pays to work, to crackdown on fraud and to support the most disadvantaged and help them turn their lives around. It is wrong for the Guardian to demonise public servants.
Mr Rusbridger might wish to get a grip on his skittish staff. He could start by encouraging an ethos of criticism based on fact. His reporters' latest excursion outside the London bubble in an ill-conceived mission to misrepresent Newcastle as the UK's industrially imploded Detroit was so laughable in its misrepresentation even Buzzfeed took the mickey.

In the end, though, the reason for his paper's untrustworthiness matters less than its consequences.
Mr Rusbridger stands outside the fold of the newly forming Independent Press Standards Organisation, set up after the Leveson public inquiry into newspapers.
A few strays mill about. The FT is grazing in its own field. The Independent is lost in another valley after wandering off in search of a reader. Lord Hunt, the last chairman of the PCC, has given up on rounding them up.
At the time of the Leveson inquiry Mr Rusbridger deluded himself that that he had earned the right to direct the new era of press regulation. It was how the story was supposed to end. But he's been outflanked.
IPSO is now the only show in town and looking more solid by the day under the recently announced stewardship of Sir Alan Moses, a retired Court of Appeal judge. The Desmond problem has become the Rusbridger problem.
Should the new IPSO members accept Mr Rusbridger as a johnny-come-lately?  No, rather he should be blackballed. Sorry, but the Guardian isn't fit to become a member of IPSO until it starts valuing accuracy.
In the end, of course, it's IPSO's decision. But should the new standards body be so gracious as to invite him in, I guess I'll be waiting to lodge the first complaint. Though I may find 280,000 Geordies queuing ahead of me.

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