News | Published July 30 2020

Johnson under fire for inaccurate use of statistics

The Office for Statistics Regulation [OSR] has said that prime minister Boris Johnson has inaccurately used statistics to support exaggerated claims that child poverty has been reduced during his stint in Number Ten.

The OSR says that some of the figures Johnson used to support his claims were not accurate and the Labour Party has urged him to “correct the record”.

Calling his misleading use of statistics around child poverty “shameful”, shadow education secretary Kate Green said: “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.”

The original complaint to the OSR had come from the End Child Poverty Coalition, which accused the PM of making “misleading” statements using statistics on three occasions.

One of the statements in question was made on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on December 1, 2019, when Johnson claimed there were “400,000 fewer children in poverty than there were in 2010”.

A similar claim was made during a Prime Minister’s Questions session on June 17, when the prime minister said that “absolute 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”.

The third instance came during Prime Minister’s Questions on June 24, when the PM claimed that “there are 100,000 fewer children in absolute poverty and 500,000 fewer children falling below thresholds of low income and material deprivation”.

In the letter of complaint, End Child Poverty Coalition chair Anna Feuchtwang wrote: "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."

Feuchtwang called it “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 added: “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.”

Ed Humpherson, the director general of regulation at the stats watchdog, responded: "Our team has investigated the statements which you highlight [and has found the alleged inaccuracies to be true]."

The fact that the PM’s claims on each occasion were inaccurate have also been verified by BBC Reality Check.

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Authored by

Alexander Bridge-Wilkinson
Junior Editor
July 30 2020

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