Published: 09:47 BST, 30 July 2020 | Updated: 09:56 BST, 30 July 2020
Boris Johnson exaggerated the government’s record on poverty by repeatedly using inaccurate and misleading figures, the UK statistics watchdog has found.
The Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) made the statement in response to a complaint from the End Child Poverty Coalition, which said the Prime Minister had used data ‘selectively, inaccurately and, ultimately, misleadingly’ since last December’s General Election.
The coalition said Mr Johnson’s claim on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on December 1 that there are ‘400,000 fewer children in poverty than there were in 2010’ was incorrect.
It also said Mr Johnson’s statement that ‘absolutely poverty and relative poverty have both declined under this Government’ and ‘there are hundreds of thousands, I think 400,000, fewer families living in poverty now than there were in 2010’, made at PMQs on June 17, this year was also untrue.
Furthermore, the coalition contended that at PMQs a week later, Mr Johnson incorrectly said ‘there are 100,000 fewer children in absolute poverty and 500,000 children falling below thresholds of low income and material deprivation’.
Boris Johnson exaggerated the government’s record on poverty by repeatedly using inaccurate and misleading figures, the UK statistics watchdog has found
December 1: The Prime Minister said on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that there are ‘400,000 fewer children in poverty than there were in 2010’.
June 17: Mr Johnson told the Commons at PMQs that ‘absolutely poverty and relative poverty have both declined under this Government’ and ‘there are hundreds of thousands, I think 400,000, fewer families living in poverty now than there were in 2010’.
June 24: The PM said at PMQs: ‘There are 100,000 fewer children in absolute poverty and 500,000 children falling below thresholds of low income and material deprivation’.
In the letter, Anna Feuchtwang, chairwoman of the coalition, said it cannot be right that such figures are used ‘selectively’.
She wrote: ‘While it is expected – and right – that child poverty should be the subject of robust political debate, it cannot be right that official figures on something as fundamental as how many children are in poverty continue to be used selectively, inaccurately and, ultimately, misleadingly.’
Responding to the complaints set out in the letter, Ed Humpherson, director-general for regulation at the authority, said: ‘Our team has investigated the statements which you highlight (and has reached the same conclusion that these statements are incorrect).’
Poverty is difficult to definitively calculate, as the OSR explains there are four official measurements which can be used.
These are relative poverty, which records households with less than 60 per cent of contemporary median income, before and after housing costs, and absolute poverty, which compares numbers against baseline figures from 2010/11, again before and after housing costs.
In March, data from the Department for Work and Pensions estimated the number of people living in a relative low-income household after housing costs had risen to 4.5 million in 2018-19 from four million the year before.
It was the highest number of people living in poverty in the UK since figures were collated in 2002.
Poverty is difficult to definitively calculate, as the OSR explains there are four official measurements which can be used. These are relative poverty, which records households with less than 60 per cent of contemporary median income, before and after housing costs, and absolute poverty, which compares numbers against baseline figures from 2010/11, again before and after housing costs
An OSR blog post reads: ‘There is no wrong measure, but there is a wrong way of using the available measures – and that is to pick and choose which statistics to use based on what best suits the argument you happen to be making.’
Ms Feuchtwang said she welcomed the conclusion from the watchdog that the Prime Minister had used child poverty statistics incorrectly.
‘It is deeply insulting to the children and families swept into poverty when data about them is used selectively and misleadingly at the whim of politicians,’ she said.
‘The simple fact is that by any measures child poverty is rising but instead of tackling the problem the Government risks obscuring the issue and misinforming the public.
‘The lives of real people are at stake and we need consistent use of information and urgent action.’
Child Poverty Action Group chief executive Alison Garnham said: ‘The hard truth is that child poverty is growing in the UK but the Government is in denial on this – that has to shift.
‘If the will and the focus are there, a strategy can be agreed and action taken to prevent more children from being damaged by poverty.’
She added: ‘It’s our moral responsibility to safeguard children from poverty and to invest in them.
Imran Hussain, director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, said that the longer the UK is in denial of the scale of child poverty, the harder it will be to fix.
‘Admitting that rising numbers of ordinary families are struggling to keep their children clothed and well fed matters to good policy making.
‘You can’t ‘level up’ the country if you’re sweeping under the carpet the big rises in child poverty clearly shown by the official figures.
‘The longer we’re in denial about the scale of the problem, the harder it will be to fix it.’
Shadow education secretary Kate Green said the Prime Minister must ‘come clean’ and correct the record on the issue.
She said: ‘It is shameful that the Prime Minister is unable to tell the truth about the hardship faced by so many families struggling to make ends meet.
‘Children and families in such difficult circumstances deserve better than this shabby treatment from an out-of-touch Prime Minister who has repeatedly failed to be honest about the challenges they face.
‘The Prime Minister must now correct the record, both publicly and in Parliament, and ensure that when he next raises his Government’s damning record on child poverty, he comes clean about what the stats are saying.’
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News – PM repeatedly made inaccurate claims about child poverty – watchdog