Archive for category Europe

The EU, prunes, and the problem with “patent truth”

Hey! I know it’s been a while since I blogged. Hopefully you haven’t missed me too much. Anyway.

Prunes are not a laxative, EU rules, says today’s Telegraph, endowing the EU with frankly godlike powers. Did someone in Brussels snap their fingers and magically prunes suddenly ceased to be laxatives?

Let’s help the Telegraph and suggest a more accurate headline. Perhaps…

Prunes are not a laxative, science suggested two years ago

The laxative effect of prunes is one of those things that “everyone knows”.  Certainly MEP and frequent talking head Roger Helmer agrees, claiming:

“The euro is burning, the EU is falling apart and yet here they are: highly-paid, highly-pensioned officials worrying about the obvious qualities of water and trying to deny us the right to say what is patently true.”

Ignoring the fact that this study was carried out in mid-2009, before the Euro crisis kicked off, Roger Helmer has an interesting definition of “patently true”.

The study looked at the scientific evidence for the effectiveness specifically of dried prunes. There were two studies of the effectiveness of dried prunes in humans at the time:

Daily Consumption of Dried Plum by Postmenopausal Women Does Not Cause Undesirable Changes in Bowel Function” by Edmund Lucas et al and “Consumption of prunes as a source of dietary fiber in men with mild hypercholesterolemia” by Lesley Tinker et al. Lucas found that there was no significant difference between apples and prunes in stool bulk, consistency, frequency or pain, and Tinker found a difference in stool weight between prunes and grape juice, but no effect on consistency or frequency.

A third study they looked at, “Prune juice has a mild laxative effect in adults with certain gastrointestinal symptoms” showed that as you can probably guess from the title, prune juice did appear to have laxative effects – hence why they only talk about dried plums in the report.

Now, it’s possible that dried prunes are laxative – a much more recent study (albeit one funded by the “California Dried Plum Board”) from 2011 found that prunes appear to work better than the laxative psyllium at relieving constipation – but at the time this report was written, it simply would not have been accurate to say that, based on the body of available evidence, prunes were any better at keeping you “regular” than any other sort of fruit.

(The Telegraph also claims that the EU banned claiming that drinking water could prevent dehydration. Read the actual article, and the very last paragraph reveals that they’re talking about clincal dehydration, which is normally caused by disease rather than by not drinking enough fluids and that “This claim is trying to imply that there is something special about bottled water which is not a reasonable claim”)

Edit: Just found this excellent post by Martin Robbins about the dehydration claim.

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The Express and vote-rigging

PLOT TO "RIG" YOUR EU VOTE

Why is "rig" in quotes? Well...

Oh look, the front page of the Express has a ludicrous EU scare story! What are the odds?

BRUSSELS will attempt to “rig” any referendum asking the British people if they want to quit the EU, it emerged last night.

It would unleash a multi-million pound pro-Europe propaganda campaign – and get UK taxpayers to pick up the bill.

Except it’s not actually Brussels “rigging” anything, as the article explains later:

Up to now, MEPs have been allowed to use the funds only to campaign in elections for the European Parliament.

But in future they will be able to spend the cash campaigning where a referendum has a “direct link” to an EU issue – such as on UK membership.

So in other words, while pro-EU parties will be allowed to use EU support to campaign on the issue, anti-EU parties – EUDemocrats, for instance, who campaigned in Ireland against the Lisbon Treaty – would likewise be able to use the same funds to campaign as well. It’s not Brussels co-ordinating these campaigns either – it’s a matter for the individual European political parties representatives in each country.

(Edit: Zelo Street points out that this just a proposal taken from a draft report – there have been no changes to party funding, so this story is doubly ludicrous.)

Still, it’s funny that the Express considers running “propaganda” about Europe to be “vote rigging”.

Is this an example of vote rigging, Daily Express?

How about this?

Or this?

This?

Or indeed this?

Is this?

I could go on… so I will.

Is this propaganda “vote rigging”?

Perhaps this is?

Or maybe this?

What about this ludicrous scare story?

Does this count?

Does this?

Surely this must?

And how about this, or this?

Since the Daily Express clearly feels so strongly about any attempt to rig a referendum using biased or blatantly untrue propaganda, I wonder how long it will be before they furiously denounce the articles linked above.

Any second now…

Edit: This post originally claimed that UKIP would be eligible for funding, but although they are members of the Europe of Freedom and Democracy group, they are not members of a pan-European party at present, which would be required before they could be funded.

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An Express Crusade that’s even more pointless than usual

DAVID Cameron was last night challenged to make May 5 the day that Britain decides whether to quit the European Union.

The Daily Express stepped up its crusade for the UK to cut ties with Brussels by calling for the planned referendum on electoral reform to be turned into a historic vote on EU membership.

Leading MPs and campaigners backed the move. Tory MP Peter Bone, of the Better Off Out group, said: “This is a splendid idea by the Daily Express. It makes absolute sense.”

“A splendid idea that makes absolute sense”, except that it is impossible. The wording of the referendum question is set out in the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act, which received Royal Assent on the 16th of February. There has to be a minimum of 10 weeks between the bill passing and the day of the referendum, so the Electoral Commission can decide which groups officially represent each side of the debate; if the question was changed or a new question was added, you’d need an amendment or a new bill to change the questions on the paper and that would reset the clock – especially since in this case, the Electoral Commission would suddenly be tasked with not only registering all pro-AV and anti-AV groups, but also pro-EU and anti-EU groups as well.

We’re now way closer to May 5th than 10 weeks; even if Parliament could somehow draft, debate and pass a European Referendum Bill in one night (and it would have to be Parliament – David Cameron doesn’t have any magical amendment powers here), the new question would need another 10 week waiting period. It simply could not be done any sooner.

Conservative MPs Peter Bone and Philip Davies, Labour MP Kate Hoey and UKIP MEP Nigel Farage all put their weight behind this idea even though all of them must know it wouldn’t be possible;* after all, the media made so much of the 10 week deadline that it would be impossible to be oblivious. Still, I’m sure they must have had important reasons to support something that would be illegal (trying to change a referendum question less than 10 weeks beforehand), unconstitutional (David Cameron pushing the amendment without support from either House) and impractical (writing, reading, debating, reporting on and passing a bill on an issue as critically important and controversial as the European Union in a matter of weeks) besides an excuse to get their names in the paper next to a burning European flag…

Right?

* Incidentally, at the time when it was possible – though still massively impractical – to put this question into the bill, none of the MPs proposed putting a question like this into the referendum. Funny, that.

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Different refugees, same scare story

A few weeks ago, the Daily Star ran a fairly shameful piece which claimed that “Thousands of illegal immigrants will flee riot-torn Egypt and flood to Britain, the leader of Nato has warned” even though the Nato Secretary-General had been talking about what may happen to the whole of the EU (not Britain in particular) if unrest in North Africa damaged the Middle East peace process. Tabloid Watch has a very good takedown of that story.

Anyway, today its stablemate the Daily Express has a very similar piece, this time about the situation in Libya: UN tells Britain to open its doors to refugees.

BRITAIN faces a wave of migrants from Libya after a demand from the UN yesterday that Europe opens its borders to refugees.

The article appears to be based to be based on an interview with Baroness Amos, who leads the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, on the Today programme yesterday. As quoted by the Express, she said:

“In asking for the borders of neighbouring countries like Tunisia and Egypt to stay open, it is important that EU borders also stay open.

“I know the EU countries are going through a difficult financial time but they are still much better off than people who are fleeing a violent and difficult situation in Libya.

“We will continue to ask the EU and neighbouring countries to keep their borders open.”

This is a less a “demand” and a more a very politely worded “If you wouldn’t mind…“; the European Union’s borders are already open to refugees fleeing Libya, and have been since the start. More importantly, she doesn’t mention Britain once. Nothing here supports the Express‘s claim that a “wave” of Libyan migrants is heading that way – it would after all be very difficult for anyone displaced by the fighting (almost certainly without access to much money) to, at short notice in a country with virtually no infrastructure, travel all the way from Libya to Britain, when there are other countries much nearer – not just Tunisia and Egypt but Italy and Spain as well.

Indeed, the question she was answering makes it clear that this isn’t about Britain at all, it’s about Mediterranean countries who actually would expect to receive some refugees from the conflict:

What about the role of the European Union, both in the short and in the longer term? If there’s going to be a large number of people who are displaced and who are very close to the European Union’s southern border, it does sort of raise a whole set of new questions, doesn’t it, over the way in which the EU deals with people who are often very desperate and trying to get into the EU?

Unless the UK has suddenly become part of Europe’s southern border, none of this has anything to do with migration to Britain. The Daily Express has co-opted an ongoing human rights crisis and turned it into yet another immigration scare story. Even the Daily Mail, not normally known for its balanced coverage of stories about refugees and asylum, has managed to be reasonable about the situation in Libya.

Sure enough, while the Mail has a mixture of comments both sympathetic and unsympathetic to the refugees, only one comment on the Express‘s article doesn’t demand that we “SEND EM ALL BACK”* – and that comment is just pointing out that the UN asked, it didn’t demand. The other comments look like this:

I’d like to tell the UN where they can stick this proposal – and it wouldn’t be anywhere pleasant. Libya & its people are not our problem; we have a shortage of decent jobs & affordable housing for our own people, so letting in yet more foreigners is preposterous. These people need to stay in Libya & weather the storm.

If this does happen,people we must act not just chat on paper sites.This country is dieing and cameron is no doctor.More mouths more human rights to pander to and more death on our streets.The world can go stuff itself my england has had a running sore since labour got into power,IMMIGRANTS.Increase foreign aid dave,well his big society must refer to the big foreign society that darkens our shores.Their will be blood,I really hope the bnp in power sends them all packing,I’ll be there waving them a good british clear off.Two fingers optional.

NOW IS THE TIME TO TELL THESE MIGRANT WORKERS TO GO BACK TO THEIR OWN COUNTRIES. WE IN THE UK ARE FED UP OF BEING DUMPED ON BY THE REST OF THE WORLD AND ESPECIALLY THE EU.
THE ROMANS HAD A GREAT IDEA A CENSUS MAKING ALL IT’S PEOPLE GO BACK TO THEIR PLACE OF BIRTH SOMETHING THAT LEADING POLITCIANS SHOULD THINK ABOUT FOR TODAYS SOCIETY.

Oh joy. Why is it always us that get told what to do regarding refugees? We already have 1.5 million from labors criminal actions plus a further 1 million illegals. The vast majority of these are Muslim and the chances are that Libyan, Egyptian and Tunisian are Muslim as well. We can no longer support the huge number of migrants that want to come here and seriously put the religious balance at risk. I have a suggestion for the UN. Get Russia to take them. I would think that if the immigrants were not going to Western Europe but to some place out on the Steppes they might prefer to stay where they are and rebuild their country.

I’m sure that has nothing to do with the misleading headline, which seems carefully calculated to rile people up, right?

* There’s one other comment that’s sort of sympathetic, but, err…

However, refugees are refugees – not ‘asylum seekers, potential residents, parasites on society or disruptive elements'; they should be treated as guests and behave as such.

Moreover, while guests in a country they should be looking to return home as soon as possible – and if the international community deems that their home country is run by an ‘oppressive regime’ then these refugees sould be armed, trained and sent back to their home countries as the spearhead of a UN force to liberate their kinsmen.

That would definitely prevent the situation escalating into civil war, right? Right?

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Peter, don’t be a martyr

(H/T @RopesToInfinity)

Shylock didn’t ask for 454g of flesh…and no one wants to drink a litre of wine, says PETER HITCHENS

Because of course the traditional English pint of wine is much more convenient.

Anyway, most of the article is either scaremongering, rubbish, or doesn’t make sense, so here are the highlights.

Would it really be so difficult for those of us who still feel British to say: ‘No, thank you, please measure that in pounds and ounces,’ to the trader who offers us kilos, and to complain when the national broadcaster uses foreign expressions to replace perfectly good English ones.

It already is legal to offer to measure goods in pounds, as long as there as there is a kilogram measurement available too. The “metric martyrs” didn’t get in trouble for selling objects in Imperial, they got in trouble for not offering metric.

In truth, the only properly non-metric nation on the planet is America, the most technologically advanced, economically successful country in human history – and the most free.

Regardless of whether America is the most technologically advanced or the most free – how you’d measure either of these is beyond me – surely it would be difficult to say that metric Japan is not technologically advanced, or that metric Sweden is not free, and the metric EU is a larger economy than America. Whether or not a country is free or wealthy probably has very little to do with what they write on their rulers.

Besides, American scientists? They use metric. Every scientist does – metric forms the basis of the SI system; a rational, universal system of measurements based on the fundamental properties of the universe.*

I cannot imagine a kilogram, let alone a gram, or a metre or a litre or a hectare. I work out what they mean by converting them into the proper measures that have their roots and origins in the land, as I do – an acre is a day’s work at the plough, a fathom the width of a man’s outstretched arms.

For those of us who don’t plough fields with oxen, that might be a little less useful.

Why? Because our customary measures are a sign that we – almost uniquely among the nations – still run our own lives. These measures are rooted in daily life, are human, and honest, because they are polished in use, sound like what they are (can’t you hear a gallon sloshing in its bucket?) and because you can use them in poetry.

There are miles, inches and fathoms in the Bible and Shakespeare, and if you converted them it would sound ludicrous. Imagine Hamlet jeering as he holds Yorick’s skull: ‘Now get you to my lady’s chamber, and tell her, let her paint 2.5 centimetres thick, to this favour she must come; make her laugh at that.’

Why stop there? Bring back the lovely poetic bushel! The hogshead! The shaftment! The ell!

You see, this is the big problem with Hitchens’s argument. For all that he complains about “totalitarianism”, and measures “made up in an office”, the modern Imperial system is every bit as artificial as the metric system. Once upon a time, there were hundreds of different units, all created by people in different trades, in different parts of the country, and each one was pretty convenient for them.

Of course, that system was such a mess. Over the years – starting with the Magna Carta – the number of units was slowly whittled down (bye bye Scots measures) and the ones that were left were standardised (no longer was the Cheshire acre twice the size of the standard acre), culminating in the Weights and Measurements Act 1824. Measurements across the whole country were unified, and it became illegal to sell goods using the older units – more or less exactly what happened when metric was introduced.

Outside the oompah-band and leather-shorts regions of Germany, you will not see anyone drinking beer in litres either. This is because a litre is a measure made up in an office, whereas the old-English ‘bottle’ (equivalent to about 72 centilitres) and the old-French ’bouteille’ (the same) were enough for two people to share over a meal.

It has now been rationalised into 75 centilitres, three-quarters of a litre, but no further. And that is itself a significant departure from the metric system, which is based on counting our toes and doesn’t like quarters because ten can’t be divided by four (or three, for that matter).

Of course not, a litre of beer is rather massive. Anyway, metric doesn’t care what you divide things into. The whole point of metric is that it’s based on the decimal number system, so you can divide it however you like. If you want to split it into fours, that’s easy. If you want to split it in thirds, or fifths, or even sevenths, that’s no problem. On the other hand, if you want to split a mile into 7 pieces, how do you do that? It’s 0.143 miles, but how many feet is that? The answer is a bit more than 754 feet and 3 inches, but that’s an absolute bastard to work out in your head, unless you know your 5280-times tables off by heart.

The metric system officially doesn’t have such a thing as a foot. It scorns this useful measure, going straight from the metre down to the centimetre. But here’s a funny thing. School rulers in metric countries are not one metre long, but 30 centimetres, which is almost exactly a foot. Timber and building materials are often sold, in metric countries, in 30cm units. Just don’t call them feet.

So, err, why is measuring things in 30 cm units a defeat? Again, the metric system doesn’t care how you divide your measurements, so 30 cm is a perfectly valid length for a ruler… so is 50 cm, or 10 cm, or 87 cm, or any other length that takes your fancy.

It is almost invariably forced on people and nations by dictators, revolutions or invasion. It may have its uses in international commerce and science, though Man went to the Moon in feet and inches. But nobody ever wanted it in private dealings.

And NASA’s decision that it, and it alone, would continue to use U.S. customary units instead of metric resulted in the crash of the Mars Climate Orbiter. At any rate, every measurement system has been imposed by force by some people – why do you think India used Imperial until after it declared independence?**

Long story short, we use metric because it is more convenient than Imperial, not less – though, as Hitchens’s past record shows, given a choice between foreignness and inconvenience, he’ll take inconvenience every time.

* Except for the kilogram, which is admittedly still based on a chunk of platinum in a bank vault in Paris. Hopefully not for much longer though…

** Wikipedia also mentions occupied Japan using American units, but I can’t find an independent source for that so I’ll leave it in this footnote.

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Another unwinnable Crusade from the Express

This is the Platonic Ideal of a Daily Express front page.

The idea that the Daily Express would somehow be able to change Britain’s timezone was stupid. The idea that the Daily Express can single-handedly tear Britain out of the EU however is just plain cute. It’s a bit like watching a puppy try to take part in an Olympic marathon. You know it hasn’t a hope in hell of succeeding, but simply the idea that it thinks it can win makes you go “Aww” against your better judgement.

Just as last time, they claimed that 29 million people supported them based on a survey of a few thousand, the Express is once again overstating support for its crusade – which I remind you only started today – by quoting a few Eurosceptics and claiming that they represent a huge groundswell of support … gathering behind the Daily Express Crusade“, and that the Daily Express running a front page piece about how it doesn’t like Europe is “a turning point in the battle to win back Britain’s independence“.

Edit: Now they’re claiming that “99 per cent of people agree we should quit the European Union“, when of course what they actually mean is that 99% of Express readers with a strong enough opinion to ring a premium rate number buried somewhere in the newspaper agree. Via Primly Stable and Enemies of Reason.

Anyway, as you might expect, the Express gets maybe a wee bit overenthusiastic, claiming that unemployment is high in EU because politicians are for some reason deliberately sabotaging recovery with “new job-destroying regulations” and running with a “what have the Romans ever done for us?” argument that “Almost nothing the EU has proposed or enacted has benefited Britain“.

Perhaps the ‘best’ part of the article though is when they move past mangled memories of Black Wednesday and the claims that the only difference between us and Switzerland is EU membership, and move onto history. Now, the Daily Express is always complaining that schools aren’t teaching history properly, but instead twist it to their own ideological ends. Well, I’m sure the Express won’t stoop to that lev…

The creation of the EU is explained by the perfectly understandable desire to avoid further conflict on a continent that had been the scene of two world wars.

But Britain is a land apart: A precious stone set in the silver sea, as Shakespeare so evocatively put it; a realm with a glorious island story stretching back a thousand years, with links to every continent and a language taken up throughout the world.

You know, completely unlike a France, a realm with a glorious story stretching back a thousand years with links to every continent and a language taken up throughout the world.

Or Spain, a realm with a glorious story stretching back a thousand years, with links to every continent and a language taken up throughout the world.

Or Portugal, a realm with a glorious story stretching back a thousand years, with links to every continent and a language taken up throughout the world.

Or the Netherlands, a realm with a glorious story stretching back a thousand years, with links to every continent and a language taken up throughout the world.

Anyway, I’m surprised the Express, usually rather big on the whole remembrance thing, forgets which country suffered massive economic damage as a result of those two world wars, and therefore may have a bit of an interest in preventing another one happening. Here’s a hint, it was us.

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The Express and The Mail step into the ring! Only one can leave! FIGHT!

For a while now, the Express has been running it’s “Time for Change Crusade“, in favour of Britain changing to Single-Double Summer Time (SDST) so we are 2 hours ahead of GMT in summer and one hour ahead in winter – equivalent to moving time zone by one hour from Western European Time to Central European Time (CET) (previous posts on the subject here) . A few weeks ago, The Sun too declared that it too wanted to “save Britain from Daylight Robbery“. Well, now a rival has stepped up to the plate;* via the medium of Peter Hitchens, the Mail has begun its “British Time Campaign” to stop the UK moving to CET (or “Berlin Time”, as they call it in flagrant violation of Godwin’s law).

Both sides are sadly up to their usual tricks in favour of their position to ludicrous extents – the Daily Express claims they have the backing of 29 million people based on a survey of a few thousand while the Daily Mail claims that people who support the change are useful idiots to some sort of evil “Bratwurst-eating” Frankfurt conspiracy.

So, in the interests of fair debate, here are the facts, laid out in as neutral a way as I can:**

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UKIP spaces out

EU IS ON ANOTHER PLANET - Daily Express front page

No... pretty sure Europe's on Earth

The Daily Express has an EXCLUSIVE today: the EU is spending money on things! Well, when they say “Exclusive”, what they actually mean is that they just downloaded the draft EU budget for 2011 and searched for “space” and “films”.

As millions of Britons faced swingeing cuts, the draft EU budget reveals an extra £23million will be spent on space research next year, taking the annual total to £204million.

Taxpayers’ cash is also being funnelled into a £670million subsidy of pro-European documentaries and art-house films revelling in scenes of sex and violence.

All EU funded films do of course have to have at least one ultra-violent orgy scene, hence why sick depraved films like Tamara Drewe received a subsidy. Still, it’s the Express‘s stance on space travel that intrigues me, and by the Express‘s stance, I mean UKIP’s stance, since that’s where this story seems to have come from:

Nigel Farage, frontrunner to lead the UK Independence Party, last night described the draft budget as proof that Brussels had lost touch with reality. He said: “The idea of sending eurocrats into orbit has its charms but £23million extra for space research is bizarre.

“Will the first EU space rocket have gold-plated taps and marble flooring? It seems our eurocrats have finally got off the Brussels gravy train and boarded Starship Excess.”

The first European space rocket? That would be the Ariane 1, built back in the 1970s.* Not a gold tap or marble floor in sight.

So, is £204 million an outrageous sum to spend on space? By comparison, the UK spends £268 million per year on the UK Space Agency – probably frozen at the moment, but last year, that figure rose by £29 million – and contributes hundreds of millions more to ESA. Per person, the UK spent far more on space than the EU. Besides, if the EU withdrew support for ESA, all that would happen would be that member states would have to take the slack – the total British expenditure for space would not change significantly.

*The European Space Agency is not technically EU, but it is funded by them, and somehow I doubt the EU is going to start its own rocket program in parallel with Ariane.

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Isn’t the TPA railing against “pointless non-jobs” rather hypocritical?

The papers aren’t even trying any more. Once upon a time, they might at least pretend they weren’t simply churning out TaxPayers’ Alliance press releases; today’s articles “Council EU jobs cost £41m” (Express) and “Councils spend £41million a year on non-jobs” (Telegraph) however are utterly shameless about it.

First things first: the TaxPayers’ Alliance report (eurgh, I guess I should link to it) found the cost of all “unnecessary” jobs – in other words, any job Richard Littlejohn might disapprove of – was £41 million. That’s not just European Officers, but Diversity Officers, Political Advisers and Climate Change Officers* too.

The report contradicts itself several times: the TPA point to the fact that different councils employ different numbers of staff as an indication of waste – “the disparities across councils are evidence that the hiring of specific staff is not necessary” – only to later state “As proponents of localism, the TaxPayers’ Alliance believes that local authorities should be granted as much freedom as possible to make decisions that benefit local taxpayers. This will inevitably mean that councils will pursue different policy objectives“. So councils should have as much freedom as they like as long as they only use that freedom to do exactly what the TPA wants?

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TaxPayers’ Alliance or The Sun editorial team – who’s worse?

Two sets of lies and disortions on the same story from The Sun and The Daily Express. Let’s tackle The Sun‘s first, in today’s “The Sun Says” editorial:*

THE Government can’t move fast enough to carry out disability benefit medical checks.

Almost one million workless households are getting large handouts by claiming that every member over 16 is sick, injured or disabled.

That would make us the sickest and most accident-prone country in Europe – which we aren’t.

Really? Let’s have a look at the Europe-wide disability benefits statistics (PDF). The data are a little bit old (2005), but it’s the most recent I could find, and according to DWP statistics (PDF), the number of people on incapacity benefits has dropped slightly between 2005 to 2010 (from 1.83 million to 1.78 million (table 1.2 of the DWP data, p. 11)), so if anything, this data will be an overestimate.

Graph 1.1 of the European data (p. 17) conveniently shows the proportion of the UK population on incapacity benefits compared to all other EU countries. In fact, we’re 8th out of 25 in terms of the proportion of our population on long term disability benefits. True, we’re above (as The Sun would put it, “sicker and more accident-prone than”) Malta, Cyprus, Greece, Estonia, France, Germany and Slovenia, but we’re below Portugal, Latvia, Ireland, Slovakia, Italy, Belgium, Poland, Austria, Luxembourg, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, the Netherlands, Finland, Lithuania, Sweden and Hungary.

So the entire point of The Sun‘s editorial – that clearly there must be disability benefit fraud going on, since more people are on benefit than in any other European country – is nothing but a lie.

Read the rest of this entry »

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