Boris Johnson is under fire from the UK Statistics Authority for repeating the claim the Government would have an extra £350million a week to spend after Brexit.
The watchdog accused the Foreign Secretary of a “clear misuse of official statistics”, prompting Johnson to hit back that authority chief Sir David Norgrove was guilty of a “wilful distortion” of his comments.
It is not the first time the Tories have incurred the wrath of the UK Stats Authority since coming back into Government in 2010, as these six examples show.
In a speech at Chatham House in November 2015, David Cameron set out the reforms he was trying to make to how EU migrants could claim benefits when they come to the UK.
It was part of a bid to show Cameron was getting tough on so-called ‘benefit tourism’ ahead of the 2016 referendum. One statistic in particular raised eyebrows: 43% of EU migrants claimed benefits within four years of arriving in the UK.
The fact-checking charity Full Fact reported Cameron to the UK Statistics Authority as Downing Street initially provided no indication of how the figure was reached.
The watchdog’s chair Sir Andrew Dilnot, said the Government’s handling of the release of the figures was “disappointing” and “unsatisfactory” and that officials had been “spoken with”.
Sir Andrew said in a letter: “The release of these statistics without the subsequent accompanying background material explaining the methodology used made it hard for those interested to understand and scrutinise the statistics, which was clearly unsatisfactory.
In 2011, George Osborne was admonished by the Stats Authority for releasing market sensitive information on inflation – the Consumer Price Index – 17 hours early.
The figures were sent to 400 ministers, officials and advisers – rather than just the 17 Treasury staff who were authorized to see the statistics 24 hours before the official release.
In a damning letter to Osborne, Stats Authority chief Sir Michael Scholar said: “Why do 50 or more people need to have the CPI a day ahead of the Opposition, Parliament, the public, and the media? There is, I believe, no good operational reason, but successive governments want the political advantage that such prior knowledge confers on them: that is, time to work out their line; and therefore time to spin.”
He added: “None of these suspicions, leaks or suspected leaks could have occurred if the Government had stuck to the position it took in Opposition, as the Statistics Authority recommended in my letter to the Prime Minister of 12 May 2010: namely that you should reduce pre-release access to the minimum, so that only those who really need to know are shown these statistics in advance of general publication.”
In 2012, the Government claimed real-term spending on the NHS had increased since 2009/10. The UK Statistics authority disagreed. In a letter to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, watchdog chief Andrew Dilnot said that using the Treasury’s own figures revealed: “expenditure on the NHS in real-terms was lower in 2011-12 than it was in 2009-10.”
He added: “Given the small size of the changes and the uncertainties associated with them, it might also be fair to say that real-terms expenditure had changed little over this period.
“In light of this, I should be grateful if the Department of Health could clarify the statements made.”
A Department for Health spokesman said: “The 2010-11 year should not be used a baseline for NHS spending because the budget and spending plans were set in place by the previous government.
“For the first year of this government’s spending review, as Andrew Dilnot acknowledges, NHS spending increased in real terms compared to the previous year by 0.1%.
Iain Duncan Smith
The former Work and Pensions Secretary was desperate to show this reforms to the benefit system were helping the unemployed get jobs. In 2013, IDS claimed 8,000 people who would have been effected by the Government’s benefits cap “move into jobs”.
“This clearly demonstrates that the cap is having the desired impact,” he added.
The UK Statistics Authority pulled IDS up on the boast, saying the claim “is unsupported by the official statistics published by the Department.”
In 2013, then Conservative Chairman Grant Shapps claimed “nearly a million people” (878,300) on incapacity benefits (IB) had decided not to face a medical assessment as part of the new employment and support allowance.
Shapps argued this showed “how the welfare system was broken under Labour and why our reforms are so important.”
The UK Statistics Authority was quick to point out that actually 19,700 IB recipients withdrew a benefit claim ahead of facing work capability assessments between March 2011 and May 2012.
“Having reviewed the article and the relevant figures, we have concluded that these statements appear to conflate official statistics relating to new claimants of the ESA2 with official statistics on recipients of the incapacity benefit (IB) who are being migrated across to the ESA3,” said Andrew Dilnot.
In 2014, the Ministry of Justice claimed criminal barristers earn an average of £84,000 from legal aid. The UK Statistics Authority dug down into the figure, and discovered the MOJ used the mean fee - and also excluded those barristers who earned less than £10,000 a year from public funds. It also included VAT, which barristers must pay to HMRC, and expenses such as travel costs.
“Use of the mean, rather than the median, results in a higher estimate as the calculation is influenced by a small number of larger payments,” said Sir Andrew Dilnot in a letter to Justice Minister Shailesh Vara.
The MOJ announced it would carry out a review to improve the quality and transparency of its statistics.