Nats’ sleazy stats

The Nats’ are pulling a sleight of hand trick with the statistics around benefit numbers to build a false meme. This would be amusing except that some people have bought the nonsense. I mentioned the current very low unemployment levels the other day in passing and the response was that Labour has “moved people onto the sickness benefit.”

The 11-page policy backgrounder that comes with the National’s policy states:

“Figure 1 shows that the number of people receiving the UB has declined dramatically over the past decade. At the same time, there has been a steady rise in the number of people getting the [sickness (SB)] and, especially, the [invalids benefit (IB)].”

The implication is total bollocks. You don’t have to be a statistician to see that figure 1 (below) shows unemployment beneficiaries (UB) dropping many, many times faster than the SB and IB, in terms of raw numbers. If people have been moved from UB to IB or SB, then they account for only a very, very small proportion of the decrease in UB, at most.

But if you understand that the figures presented are raw figures, unadjusted for population increase, then you’ll note that the increase in SB, in particular is unexceptional given the rate of population increase across the time period (14%). The IB has indeed been rising at a higher rate than the population, but note that it was rising at roughly the same rate under the previous, National-led, government. [Edit: Anita points out below that the IB figure is cumulative, as invalids tend to stay that way, sadly.]

The supposedly left-wing media have reported this crap as news in recent times. Let’s see if they pick up on it this time around. Just don’t bet on it.

[Note: Another post on Nats’ social welfare policy above.]

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13 Responses to “Nats’ sleazy stats”

  1. Anita Says:

    I think there is a correlation, but not the one the Nats would like to have us believe.

    I reckon that as the number of people on the unemployment benefit fell MSD staff had more time to work on each case individually, which meant that more people who were actually too sick to work got transferred onto the right benefit. Then as unemployment got really low people who couldn’t work because of illness started to really stand out, so again were moved onto the right benefit.

    So I would argue that the reduction in the numbers of people on the UB has, in two separate ways, allowed better identification of people who should actually have been receiving assistance targeted toward addressing their underlying health problems.

  2. The Sick, the Lame and the Lazy | MacDoctor Moments Says:

    […] partially accounting for the drop in unemployment beneficiaries. In an excellent post today, Jafapete demonstrates that this does not appear to be happening. Sickness benefit statistics are doing what […]

  3. macdoctor01 Says:

    Anita: I think you might be correct. I haven’t noticed any massive increase in sickness beneficiaries, but I have noticed more of them move onto invalid benefits, as it becomes clear their sickness is long-term.

    JP: The invalid benefit stats rise faster than the population because they are cumulative. These poor folk are on invalid benefits because they are stuck with their problem for the rest of their lives. Sickness beneficiaries are supposed to get better (albeit more slowly than the rest of us) so there is a “circulation” of these people. Hence their stats rise alongside the population size.

    True, too true, MacDoc. How did I forget to mention that. Thanks!

  4. Anita Says:


    Yeah, the invalids/sickness dividing line has me a bit baffled.

    A long time ago, when I was on the sickness benefit for two years, I was on the sickness benefit rather than the invalids benefit because I was expected to get better (which I did! :). So invalids for permanent, sickness for medium term.

    The National policy brief seems to say that someone on the sickness benefit would be expected to go to the doctor every 4 weeks. This baffles me; going to the doctor every four weeks for two years wouldn’t’ve made me any more well. It would have been a logistical pain (getting to the doctor is not easy for many sick people) and a financial hassle (many more doctor’s fees). Not to mention that, like many people on the sickness benefit, I worked part-time when I could, and a doctor’s visit every four weeks would have made that far more difficult.

    I simply don’t understand what the overt benefit of making someone with a medium-long term illness visit the doctor 13 times a year is. The covert benefits would be to make being on a sickness benefit really frustrating, and potentially to push people onto the invalid’s benefit.

    The disadvantages are financial, logistical, undermining part-time work, using up precious energy/mobility resources, and making the whole process of having a medium term severely limiting illness every tougher.


  5. dpf Says:

    Anita: You have the policy wrong. The current policy is the first doctor’s certificate is for 4 weeks, then the 2nd onwards are for 13 weeks.

    National’s policy is that the 1st and 2nd will each be for 4 weeks, and the 3rd one onwards will be for 13 weeks.

  6. ak Says:

    Macca said on his blog:

    about a quarter of beneficiaries are undoubtably “swinging the lead”.

    and then, in the same breath;

    but ….we don’t know that they are not genuine, we only suspect.

    Sooooo… they’re undoubtably (sic) “swinging the lead”, but you simultaneously only suspect it?

    You’re undoubtedly confusing me Mac – but I suspect you’re not.

    (genuine enquiry, sorry, just can’t get the hang of this Natspeak – a bit like Bill English saying he’s going to sell Kiwibank eventually, but never…..)

  7. Anita Says:


    Thanks for the clarification. I withdraw, apologise, and promise to check anything outlandish the media say about National policy in future 🙂

  8. macdoctor01 Says:

    AK47: Perhaps “undoubtably” should read “in my opinion”, if you want to be a stickler. But my opinion, in this case is well-informed. However, you can’t refuse a sickness benefit form unless you are legally sure you are right and can defend your opinion.

    Welcome to the paranoid world of defensive medicine.

    Sounds like the heading for another post there, MacDoc…

  9. macdoctor01 Says:

    More like a book, JP, more like a book… 😦

  10. ak Says:

    However, you can’t refuse a sickness benefit form unless you are legally sure you are right and can defend your opinion.

    I too would love to see a full Mac post on this assertion Pete! How about it Mac, we’re sitting comfortably…..

  11. Amnion Says:

    Absolutely agree with you about the figures. We have been saying it and proving it for years


    What are the figures for kids On A Course?

  12. Amnion Says:

    I refuse sickness benefit forms fairly regularly. I suppose they could take me to court.

    But you have the notes to support you, if there is no evidence of ‘sickness’ in your notes its pretty hard to justify a sickness benefit.

    If you ever feel unsure of your position, think of all the people in wheelchairs that work, and all the people with diabetes that work. These things are not a sentence of unemployability or even ‘sickness’ in many cases. Disadvantage yes, tricky yes. Human determination is a wonderful thing IMO.

    But how many people with diabetes are ‘sick’? And how many are well, but with diabetes?

    God i’m sounding like a tory.

    Amnion, a belief in the dignity of work is not tory. You’re safe.

  13. Spinning the sickness benefit « Says:

    […] Jafapete points out, the implication that there has been a migration from unemployment benefit to sickness and […]

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