Attack on bias in official figures silenced

The head of the Government Statistical Service has banned publication of an article commissioned for the 25th anniversary edition of the social statistics bible, Social Trends, because it criticises political influence on official statistics in th e 1980s.

Muriel Nissel, the first editor of Social Trends, wrote an 8,000-word history of the publication, which said that during the Thatcher years the Government drastically cut spending on official statistics; in particular the quality and quantity of politically sensitive social statistics suffered and Social Trends had to "fight for its life".

Statistics on poverty, the growing wealth gap between rich and poor and the North-South divide were either not collected or not analysed. Instead Social Trends placed more emphasis on "Mr and Mrs Average" and how well off they were.

In an article in the Independent today, Mrs Nissel says her original article was "blatantly suppressed". Calling for a review of the organisation and independence of the Government Statistical Service, Mrs Nissel says: "Unless the Government is prepared to support a statistical service which publishes uncomfortable as well as comfortable facts, a democratic society will not have confidence in it."

Mrs Nissel, a highly respected statistician, told the Independent she was "outraged" that her article had been banned by Bill Maclennan, head of the Government Statistical Service and also of the Central Statistical Office, which publishes Social Trends.

She said: "He objected to what I had to say about the 1980s, when the cuts in expenditure had a very severe impact on social statistics and Social Trends.

"If you are in an organisation you know that if you have to fight for your life you look over your shoulder. Those in charge were much more cautious about what information went out, even to other departments.

"They talked much more about Mr and Mrs Average and their families living in a hypothetical town and how well they were doing, rather than paying due attention to the growing divide between North and South, and the growing inequality of incomes. There was a fundamental change at that time."

At a press conference launching Social Trends a press spokesman for the Central Statistical Office said: "An editorial judgement was exercised. The article was commissioned but it was deemed to be political and too opinionated. It was deemed to be inappropriate for the 25th issue."

News analysis, page 13

Muriel Nissel, page 15

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