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Thursday, 27 April 2017

Revisiting Kwug Blog's 2015 UK General Election post 'Pollsters' vision excludes those offline ?'

While republishing the below 2015 UK General Election posting from Kwug Blog archives, its author and editor notes that it is perhaps more clearly relevant today than it was in the 2015 UK General Election.

As stated below, opinion pollsters such as YouGov disenfranchise the digitally dispossessed from their reckoning, and digitally dispossessed folk are the most disadvantaged by Universal Credit claiming procedures.(1) The Department for Work & Pensions' premium rate tariff Universal Credit helpline exacerbates the poverty of those waiting at least six weeks for their first payment of Universal Credit; in the digital age, the phrase 'hand to mouth' has become "pay-as-you-go premium rate tariff helpline with 'I'll put you on hold while I speak to my line manager'" messaging.

Further, the now resigned from government and apparently not replaced Welfare Reform Minister Lord Freud's attitude from the time that he was Labour's 'welfare reform guru' has always been that claimant error must be severely punished.(2) Global corporations with 'checkered pasts', however, have been recruited by UK Government to drive forward the implementation of Universal Credit.(3)

'Charitable status' and political bias

Clarity is further distorted by definitions of what is 'a charity' that can receive tax deductable funding and be subjected to the oversight of Charity Commissioners. In the run up to 2015 UK General Election period, the Charity Oxfam was severely censured for 'political bias' over its 'Perfect Storm' Twitter campaign.(4)
Oxfam 'perfect storm' poster attacked as 'shameful' by Conservative ...
The Perfect Storm — Starring: zero hour contracts; high prices; benefit cuts; unemployment; childcare costs

Emerging in the wake of that controversy, 'think tank' Reform UK currently announces as an alternating message on its home page: "As a charity, Reform will not be publishing or tweeting anything until after the general election."(5)
Reform: "As a charity, Reform will not be publishing or tweeting anything until after the general election."
 Alternating plaudits at the foot of its home page include:
"The country's leading think tank on public service reform."
— Rt Hon. Theresa May MP, Prime Minister (6)
Prime Minister Theresa May's plaudit for Reform UK
 "It is a pleasure to speak ... at Reform's conference on welfare, especially as Reform has produced so much innovative thinking on welfare over the years."
— Rt Hon Damian Green MP, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (7)
Work & Pensions Secretary Damian Green's plaudit for Reform UK

Is not Reform UK too close to the Government from which those two plaudits come? Where is its public accountability, as what Damian Green refers to as "so much innovative thinking on welfare over the years" and its key ideas contributors include Accenture, the main contractor for the Information Technology implementation for Universal Credit?

Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group is not 'a charity' with access to tax deductable funds, and is made up of benefit claimants 'on the bread line'; but it has been greatly aided by meeting weekly on the premises of a charity, the Kingsgate Community Centre in Kilburn.(8) Thus our wellbeing as a group is very much tied up with that of our hosts.

Benefit claimants have been told — falsely — "you will be better off doing paid work and your big problem for too long has been a 'dependency culture' and lack of incentive to work." The same Conservative Government — in line with its cuts in public funding — has cut off community centres' purse strings and unrented access to space and resources from local government; this is designed to make community centres "think more like businesses and less like dependents." As a consequence, Kingsgate is being obliged to research the needs of its surrounding community and its current users, gathering data with which to make bids for funding from the Big Lottery Fund.(9) Such reliance on competitive, short-termist funding applications effectively puts community centres and their staff more firmly into a 'precariat position', just while jobcentres are being cut to add to the isolation of those that this Government would clearly like to 'disappear'

On that 'current state of play' note, I close this foreword to revisiting the Kwug Blog's 2015 UK General Election post, 'Pollsters' vision excludes those offline?'

Pollsters' vision excludes those offline?

By Dude Swheatie of Kwug

Pollsters exclude offline folk

Can canvassing methods used by opinion pollsters such as YouGov be linked to increasing disengagement of disadvantaged voters? I think so, especially after having attended over three years of weekly meetings of Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group and read a recent New Statesman article that actually argues tha pollsters are not too powerful, Living by Numbers: YouGov and the Power of the Pollsters.(10)

Before online communication became more the norm than the exception, the opinion pollster companies in the UK used the landline telephone as their main interface with the electorate. That methodology excluded people for whom the landline telephone was not really financially viable and people whose security of tenure was also a major problem.(11)

Then came online canvassing of pollsters. That creates problems for something between 1/10 and 1/20 of people who come through the doors of a Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group meeting who cannot access a computer because of, say, epilepsy.

Leading pollster company YouGov's modern canvassing methods are now exclusively online and government funding for charities and public libraries has plummeted. Thus accessing the interactive world has become increasingly more difficult for such offline voters.

YouGov's strapline is, "What the world thinks." (11) Its Mission Statement reads:
“It is our ambition to supply a live stream of continuous, accurate data and insight into what people are thinking and doing all over the world, all of the time, so that companies, governments and institutions can better serve the people that sustain them”
The proposed Universal Credit registration method not only cuts DWP staff, but also cuts off folk who cannot access the online only registration method that includes having to sit at a computer for however long it takes the claimant to complete the application to register for Universal Credit.(12)

So how inclusive is YouGov's vision of 'the world'? And what is their attitude toward people who cannot access Universal Credit online?

And will such blinkered vision and an obsession toward government cost-cutting lead ultimately to online-only voting, that excludes those who cannot access the online world?

How can we best mobilise the offline voters in the 2015 UK General Election to help create a less exclusive world?

2017 Post Script

For what users of soon-to-disappear-into-digital-oblivion-if-the-current-government-is-not-stopped-in-its-tracks jobcentres really think, Kwug Blog editor highly recommends Kate Belgrave | Talking with people dealing with public service cuts.(13)

And a charity that helps people pick up the pieces of their lives that have been adversely affected by the rollout of Universal Credit is food banks charity Trussel Trust.(14)
"The Trussell Trust, the UK’s largest food bank network, announced that it provided 1,182,954 three-day emergency food parcels to people in crisis in 2016-17, up 6.4% on the previous year's total of 1,109,000.

"In areas where the full universal credit rollout has taken place, food bank referral rates were running at more than double the national average.

"The trust said the standard six-week-plus waiting time for a first benefit payment faced by new universal credit claimants was behind the rise in demand for charity food. As well as reliance on food banks, benefit delays had also led to common adverse effects such as debt, mental illness, rent arrears and eviction, the trust said.

"The trust called for an immediate reduction in the minimum six-week wait for a first payment, saying debt and uncertainty caused by being without income was a source of stress and anxiety for many clients, and had led some to lose their homes...."

What will the Charity Commissioners make of that report, published only this past week — i.e., shortly after the General Election announcement was made? What will Damian Green and the charity Reform UK make of it?


  1. http://camdennewjournal.com/article/universal-credit-claimants-stealing-food-to-eat-due-to-benefit-delays 
  2. http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/04/living-numbers-yougov-and-power-pollsters
  3. http://kilburnunemployed.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/terms-and-conditions-in-too-commercially-sensitive-for-public-access-contracts-between-government-departments-and-corporations.html
  4. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/11304223/Oxfam-rapped-for-appearing-to-be-politically-biassed-in-Twitter-campaign-by-charity-watchdog.html 
  5. http://www.reform.uk/ 
  6. http://www.reform.uk/
  7. http://www.reform.uk/ 
  8. http://www.kingsgatecommunitycentre.org.uk/
  9. Information given by Charles E Small, Kingsgate's new CEO to a recent KUWG meeting at the Centre. 
  10. Input from a business banker to a Business Enterprise Training course I attended as jobseeker around 1991 emphasised the importance of a loan applicant having a landline telephone when they evaluated a loan application. Their acronym for assessing the credit-worthiness of the applicant was 'PAPERS':
    Rate (of interest) and
    Possession of a landline suggested that the applicant intended to remain at the address serviced by that landline for some time, he argued, and that the applicant was thus less likely to be a 'fly by night' customer.
  11. http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/04/living-numbers-yougov-and-power-pollsters
  12. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/sep/10/universal-credit-benefits-disaster
  13. http://www.katebelgrave.com/
  14. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/apr/25/food-banks-report-record-demand-amid-universal-credit-chaos 
  15. https://www.trusselltrust.org/2017/04/25/uk-foodbank-use-continues-rise/

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