All posts by Paul Bradshaw

Founder of Help Me Investigate. I'm a visiting professor at City University London's School of Journalism, and run an MA in Online Journalism at Birmingham City University. I publish the Online Journalism Blog, and am the co-author of the Online Journalism Handbook and Magazine Editing (3rd edition). I have a particular interest in Freedom of Information and data journalism.

How to compile a news feed on welfare issues (or any other) – part 1: what’s going on?

Earlier this week we published our list of 19 places to follow welfare developments. In the first of a three-part serieswe explain how to get your own list of useful feeds into one page, and share it with others.

Step 1: Use a ‘personalisable homepage’ news reader like Netvibes or Feedly

There are a number of services that allow you to follow multiple sources of news at the same time – often called ‘news readers’ or ‘RSS readers’. I used Netvibes for compile this list, because you can share those lists with other people, but you may have another preference (Feedly and Flipboard are also nice, but currently don’t have the same option). The video below is just one of many providing an introduction to Netvibes:

Follow the instructions above on creating an account with Netvibes and adding feeds.

If you want your feeds page to be seen by others

If you want your feeds to be public, however, you’ll need to enable the public dashboard first. To do this: Continue reading How to compile a news feed on welfare issues (or any other) – part 1: what’s going on?

19 places to get updates on welfare reform

If you want to keep track of what’s happening in welfare reform we’ve compiled this list of some of the most useful – and varied – sources on everything from the bedroom tax to child poverty.

We’ve also put together a dashboard if you want to follow these on a single easy-to-check webpage. You can follow a public version here, or add it to Netvibes here.

Here’s who we’ve added – can you think of others?

1. The Guardian – topic: welfare

The Guardian is the UK newspaper that invests the most in covering welfare issues.

Their website allows you to follow specific topics such as ‘benefits‘ (within the Society section), as well as individual journalists, such as Patrick ButlerBut we’ve picked the general ‘politics – welfare’ topic first because it sometimes includes stories written by other journalists that aren’t classified under either of the other. 

This story on Nick Clegg’s criticism of child benefit policy, for example, comes under ‘child benefit’ rather than ‘benefits’, and is written by a politics reporter – but it does still come under the welfare topic.

2. Inside Housing: news

With so little specialist coverage in the press, specialist magazines are often a better place to look for welfare-related news. Continue reading 19 places to get updates on welfare reform

Review of 2013 on Help Me Investigate

Over on the main Help Me Investigate blog there’s a review of what we did across the four HMI sites in 2013, including HMI Welfare:

Help Me Investigate Welfare began looking at zero hour contracts at the start of 2013 before it hit the mainstream news agenda, as Danielle Hudspith reported on the Number of employees on zero hour contracts doubling in 6 years. We were also investigating thebedroom tax early, with Abbey Hartley, Enya Quin and Daniel Jones looking at the potential impact in March with the Birmingham Mail and writing a fuller report in ‘The Bedroom Tax in Birmingham: no place to go

“We worked with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism to scrape data on payday lenders, with housing charity Shelter on the changing housing sector, and spoke at a workshop organised by London charities on welfare reform.

“In July the DWP changed its “open data” tool StatXplore after Help Me Investigate raised concerns

Read it in full here (the review also talks about the plan to focus on welfare in 2014).

How to find new leads in an old news report on empty property

empty property in Croydon - image by United Diversity
empty property in Croydon – image by United Diversity

Background material and general reporting on an area can often provide all sorts of clues and leads for further, deeper investigation.

This piece from the Birmingham Mail is a particularly good example. On the surface it is a rather general report on an empty property in the city – but along the way it includes all sorts of helpful pointers if you want to dig further. Continue reading How to find new leads in an old news report on empty property

Get the data: prosecution and benefit fraud

The Telegraph and Daily Mail both report today on the number of benefit fraud cases that fail to result in prosecutions, following a parliamentary question from the Conservative MP Richard Fuller.

The stories include some important context for the figures and anyone looking to report on them, including new guidelines, which according to The Telegraph:

“[Mean] suspects can be charged under the Fraud Act, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, and the abolition of the financial threshold which prevented benefit fraud cases of less than £20,000 from being sent to crown court.”

The data behind the stories does not cover sentencing under the new guidelines – but future years will. Continue reading Get the data: prosecution and benefit fraud

DWP changes “open data” tool after Help Me Investigate raises concerns

The Department for Work and Pensions has promised a series of improvements to an online tool promoted as an example of “open data” after concerns were raised by Help Me Investigate.

Stat-Xplore was one of the case studies described in a DWP report on open data earlier this year. But on launch the site failed to meet basic open data principles listed by the Government’s own Public Sector Transparency Board (PDF), making it difficult for citizens and developers to use the data.

Continue reading DWP changes “open data” tool after Help Me Investigate raises concerns

Factcheck: 900,000 dropped benefit claims “rather than complete assessment”?

ESA: Work Capability Assessments
ESA: Work Capability Assessments – total vs dropped

On Saturday a number of media outlets reported Government claims that nearly 900,000 people dropped benefit claims “rather than undergo a tough new medical test“. Reports in The Telegraph, Express, Daily Mail, MSN and Wales Online, based on a Press Association story, however, fail to dig deeper into the claims.

How accurate are they? Steve Walker has looked at the data, following a pointer from Declan Gaffney, and found the pattern of ‘dropped claims’ doesn’t support the headlines. HMI Welfare has re-checked and re-presented it, along with some documentary context. Here are the key findings: Continue reading Factcheck: 900,000 dropped benefit claims “rather than complete assessment”?

Illegal use of B&Bs to house homeless families – how to investigate your local figures (and learn some useful data techniques too)

The Guardian’s Randeep Ramesh reports today on the use of bed and breakfasts to house families beyond the legal time limit of six weeks.

The national picture is that half of the 242 authorities who responded had placed homeless families in private accommodation for more than 6 weeks since April 2010. But what’s your local picture?

A good first stop is your local authority’s expenditure above £500. To find this, try a search like ‘expenditure 500‘ – but replace the last bit with your own local authority’s website (excluding the www.).

Download it and open in Excel or Google Docs (if you need to convert it from PDF try Now it’s time to filter… Continue reading Illegal use of B&Bs to house homeless families – how to investigate your local figures (and learn some useful data techniques too)

Welfare-related links for December 21st through January 25th

These are the welfare-related links we’ve been looking at between December 21st and January 25th:

  • Management in Practice – GPs could help save £190m in sick pay – Launching in 2014, the advisory service will allow GPs to identify employees who need support as well as issuing 'fit notes'. Lord Freud, Minister for Welfare Reform said: "Long-term sickness absence is a burden to business, to the taxpayer and to the thousands of people who get trapped on benefits when they could actually work.
  • The cost of government: what does the new transactions data really tell us? | News | – And the worst offender? The massive Department for Work and Pensions, which is Britain's biggest spending government department and administers benefits. So, for instance we have no idea how much it costs to process each of the 40m Jobseeker's allowance signing ons or to administer the benefit's 3.4m claims. The Department is responsible for 48,704,000 transactions in the high volume list alone – and we don't know the cost of any of them.
  • Reasons to be fearful: Oakley & Policy Exchange, foxes in the benefits coop | skwalker1964 – To keep this post to a readable length, I won’t go into detail on some of the other proposals that Mr Oakley would like to see implemented, or wild opinions that he holds, but will just list some of them:

    All assistance for unemployed people to find work provided by private/charitable providers
    Time-limiting unemployment benefits
    Cutting regional pay to fund infrastructure spending – thereby penalising those who are already disadvantaged in order to fund growth-measures, rather than taxing the wealthiest
    Selling public housing in expensive areas to private owners, forcing social tenants out of ‘desirable’ areas
    Claiming benefits leads to criminality
    Re-distributing income to low-paid people is a bad idea, because it ‘does nothing to encourage progression and self-sufficiency‘.

  • Request Initiative » Eleven work and pensions civil servants sacked for using Twitter or Facebook – The 11 sacked officials are among 116 DWP employees to have faced disciplinary action for blogging and social networking since January 2009, according to figures revealed under the Freedom of Information Act.
  • What is George Osborne doing to benefits? | Society | – Let's imagine someone receives £100 a month, all of which is spent on goods and services (domestic heating, food, bills, etc). The current inflation rate is 2.7%, which means in a year's time buying the exact same things would cost £102.70. Under the previous system, this is what benefits would've risen to. But with the changes, they would now only rise to £101 – leaving the recipient £1.70 worse off. Given the changes will last for at least three years, this represents a cut in income of between 3% to 6%, depending what happens with inflation. In reality, the impact could be even worse, as research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggests low-income households experience a higher inflation rate than richer ones.