Wednesday, 5 April 2017

The contradictions of Fraser Nelson

Fraser Nelson is upset with this passage, from my blog about statistics yesterday:
A similar, but even more toxic, disjunction from reality is seen in those who claim that poverty is not about money. For example, Fraser Nelson frequently claims that the Labour government saw poverty solely through the lens of numbers, and that the Brown strategy of attacking child poverty by redistributing money to the poor via tax credits was simply manipulating numbers on a spreadsheet. 
Fraser says:
You quote me saying “poverty is not about money”. I’ve never said that. My point: it’s not JUST about money. Please correct.
Fraser can read and isn’t stupid, so he knows perfectly well I didn’t “quote” him directly saying “poverty is not about money”; rather, I attributed that view to him (among others). And I linked to his Telegraph article, in which he says this:
At the heart of the Child Poverty Act lies an agenda which has arguably done more damage to Britain’s social fabric than any idea in modern history. It is based on the Eurostat definition of poverty: an income 40 per cent below the national average....instead of fighting poverty, the Labour government spent billions manipulating a spreadsheet – to catastrophic effect.
Tax credits boosted the incomes of low income families and reduced poverty as measured by low income.  It is therefore, as a matter of simple logic, impossible for Fraser to admit that, as he did yesterday, that “low income is the most important measure of poverty”, and at the same time stand by his earlier view that billions were spent on tax credits “instead of fighting poverty”. 
    
If Fraser’s point was that at least some of the money spent on tax credits could have been spent more efficiently on addressing poverty in other ways – that is, that what Labour did was not necessarily the best way of fighting poverty - then he could have said that. But he didn’t. Instead, he claimed that money spent on tax credits made absolutely no difference to poverty – and indeed, in some undefined sense, had a “catastrophic” impact.  And just in case anyone thinks I’m quoting him selectively, nowhere in his entire article is there anything remotely consistent with his admission yesterday that low income is indeed the most important measure of poverty..

Now it may be that the obvious contradiction between Fraser’s article and what he said yesterday means he’s changed his mind. In that case he should say so. Or maybe he never really meant what he wrote, but went over the top in his hyperbole, Again, he should say so. What he shouldn’t do is try to pretend he never made an argument he – rightly – describes as “repugnant”. 

Finally, Fraser decided to invoke the Independent Press Standards Organisation, resulting in this exchange:




He has declined to take me up on it. The offer remains open. 

10 comments:

  1. The March 2012 Telegraph piece you linked to is a gem, suggesting as it does that the Coalition came up with the idea of reassessing people on Incapacity Benefit, when it was actually described in a Green Paper published in 2008, when Gordon Brown was PM.
    Fraser was spookily accurate with his predictions for the reassessment programme though: "It will doubtless involve lawsuits, mistakes and embarrassing headlines". And the rest, Fraser!

    ReplyDelete
  2. PS. I wasn't reading JP's blog at 0342 in the morning, BTW. I'm not that enamoured!

    ReplyDelete
  3. And now it's 2143 UK time, anyhoo...

    ReplyDelete
  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Isn't the implied point in Mr Nelson's article that he believes that the Eurostat measure of relative poverty is easily manipulable (you get more people out of poverty more cheaply if you dedicate your resources to the people nearest the poverty line) - i.e. the richest poor people? Whereas you would improve the whole of society more if you targetted those resources on the poorest poor people (absolute poverty, if you like)?

    All the best

    ReplyDelete
  10. As I say in blog:

    If Fraser’s point was that at least some of the money spent on tax credits could have been spent more efficiently on addressing poverty in other ways – that is, that what Labour did was not necessarily the best way of fighting poverty - then he could have said that. But he didn’t. Instead, he claimed that money spent on tax credits made absolutely no difference to poverty – and indeed, in some undefined sense, had a “catastrophic” impact. And just in case anyone thinks I’m quoting him selectively, nowhere in his entire article is there anything remotely consistent with his admission yesterday that low income is indeed the most important measure of poverty..

    [Fraser has made that argument elsewhere but it's not the one made here. As it happens, it's also wrong; the IFS debunked it comprehensively in 2010.]

    ReplyDelete