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By Peter Hoskin
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Today’s
politics is brought to you by the number 53. That’s the amount, in pounds per
week, that Iain Duncan Smith is being
challenged to live on
– and it came
from a Today Programme interview with a market trader, David Bennett, who said
that he’s struggling to get by now that his benefits have been cut. Mr Bennett’s
incomings, it emerged,
include around £50 a week from his stall, £57 in housing benefit, and some money
from working tax credits, but when his rent and bills are taken into account he’s
left with that £53 a week.

The
Daily Mail has already done
some digging
, and it appears that all is not as it originally seemed. For
starters, it looks as though Mr Bennett’s outgoings include bills for “a
landline, mobile phone and Sky with broadband”. He claims that this actually
leaves him with £23 a month, which really is very little, but that needs to be
set against another detail in the Mail story: that Mr Bennett is a “regular
gambler”. The paper goes on to note that “even a £10 bet would account for
almost half of his monthly disposable income.” Curiouser and curiouser.


But,
even putting that Mail story aside, there’s a more fundamental point about the
coverage or Mr Bennett’s earnings – and it’s one that’s detailed in a
blog-post
at The Devil’s Knife. I’d recommend you read the whole thing, but
here’s the key passage:

“So Mr Bennett was being slightly economical with the
truth; as are the BBC—who have not altered their story as of 10pm today. There
is, I think that you will agree, a considerable difference between these three
options:

  • having £53 per week to pay for everything—including rent
    and bills;
  • having £53 per week to pay for everything except rent;
  • having £53 per week left after paying rent and bills.

The petition calls for Iain Duncan-Smith to go for Option
1—that is, to pay for everything with £53 per week.

Whereas the man who inspired the whole thing—David
Bennett—actually lives on Option 3, i.e. that he has £53 per week after paying
rent and bills (and what, exactly, is covered in ‘bills’, e.g. is travel
included?).

These are two very different propositions.”

This
isn’t specifically to attack Mr Bennett, who has been thrust into this story
after writing a disobliging comment about David Cameron on the BBC website, and
who is clearly under some financial pressure. But it is to say that those trying
to brand IDS with the number 53 should be clear about what they’re saying and about
where it’s coming from.

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