Statistics regulator finds PM made ‘incorrect’ child poverty claims

Written by Matt Honeycombe-Foster on 3 August 2020 in News
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Watchdog agrees with campaign group that Boris Johnson made inaccurate statements

Credit: PA

Boris Johnson made a string of “incorrect” claims about the level of child poverty under the Conservatives, according to the UK’s statistics watchdog.

Labour is demanding that the prime minister “correct the record, both publicly and in parliament” after the Office for Statistics Regulation backed the conclusion of campaigners that Johnson had made inaccurate claims about child poverty falling.

The End Child Poverty Coalition (ECP) wrote to the stats regulator at the end of June to complain about Johnson’s election campaign claim that there were “400,000 fewer children in poverty than there were in 2010”.

The group said relative child poverty — where a household has income below 60% of the UK average — had in fact risen by at least 200,000 over the period.

It said there had been “no change” or a “small fall of 100,000” in levels of absolute child poverty, a separate measure which covers households with an income below 60% of the average in 2010/11.


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The group also took aim at a series of similar claims made by Johnson in Prime Minister’s Questions clash with Labour’s Keir Starmer, including the PM saying absolute and relative poverty “have both declined under this government”.

That came despite the Social Mobility Commission saying the numbers of children living in poverty had risen by 600,000 since 2012.

The ECP told the stats watchdog that such claims were “misleading for the public and damaging to the integrity of official statistics”.

In its response, made public by the campaign group, the UK Statistics Authority’s director general for regulation Ed Humpherson said: “Our team has investigated the statements which you highlight (and has reached the same conclusion that these statements are incorrect).”

But he added: “Measuring poverty is complicated and different measures tell different parts of the story. 

“We have today published a blog, setting out the current landscape of statistics on poverty, which we will bring to the attention of the team that prepares briefing for Prime Minister’s Questions.”

The statistics regulator said it would now launch a “systemic review on the coherence of poverty statistics” later this year, and invited the End Child Poverty coalition to take part in the study.

Reacting to the letter, Imran Hussain, director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, said: “This isn’t about the Punch and Judy of PMQs. Admitting that rising numbers of ordinary families are struggling to keep their children clothed and well-fed matters to good policymaking.”

He added: “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. 

“We’ve had David Cameron’s ‘Life Chances’, Theresa May’s ‘Burning Injustices’ and the PM’s ‘levelling up’ agenda – but we’re still waiting for a child poverty strategy that will make life more bearable for desperate families and give their children a safe and happy childhood.”

Kate Green, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, urged Johnson to come to “come clean” about his use of statistics.

“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,” she said. “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.”

 

About the author

Matt Honeycombe-Foster is acting editor at PublicTechnology sister publication PoliticsHome, where this story first appeared. He tweets as @matt_hfoster.

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