Britain's official statistics watchdog has castigated the Government over David Cameron’s citation of questionable figures purporting to show how many European Union migrants claim benefits in the UK.
The UK Statistics Authority accused the Government of avoiding scrutiny by withholding key sources and calculations that could have led to the figures being debunked before yesterday’s headlines were written.
David Cameron yesterday claimed in a speech that 43 per cent of EU migrants claimed benefits in the UK within four years of arrival – but provided no source or visible working for his claim.
Some statisticians cast doubt on the figures’ provenance and validity and suggested the real figure could be significantly lower than claimed.
Fact-checkers made an official complaint to the stats watchdog, who responded in record time on Wednesday.
In a strongly-worded letter seen by the Independent, Sir Andrew Dilnot, the authority’s chair, described the Government’s handling of the release of the figures as “disappointing” and “unsatisfactory” and said officials had been “spoken with”.
The Government published a belated synopsis of the figures on Monday afternoon, well after Mr Cameron’s speech – but had briefed the initial claims to selected journalists as early as the night before.
What does five more years of the Tories mean for Britain?
What does five more years of the Tories mean for Britain?
1/8 Welfare payments will be slashed
One of the most controversial parts of the Conservative manifesto was to cut benefits for the working age poor by £12 bn over the next three years. But during the campaign they only said where £2 bn of these savings would come from. That leaves £10 bn still to find. Some experts think the only way they can close that gap is by means testing child benefit – with millions of families losing out
2/8 There will be tax cuts for those in work and those who die
The Tories will increase the threshold at which the 40p rate of tax becomes payable to £50,000 by 2020. They haven’t said so but it is also likely that at some point in the next five years they will abolish that 45p rate of tax altogether for the highest earners. They also want to increase the effective inheritance tax threshold for married couples and civil partners to £1m
3/8 There will be an in/out EU referendum in 2017
The next two years are going to be dominated by the prospect of a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. First off David Cameron has the daunting task of negotiating a deal with other EU leaders an acceptable deal that he can sell to his party so he can go into the referendum campaigning for a ‘yes’ vote. This may be unachievable and it is possible that the Tories may end up arguing to leave. Opinion polls show Britain is divided on EU membership, one poll this year showed 51% said they would opt to leave compared to 49% who would vote to stay in
4/8 There will be more privatisation of the NHS
Having won the election the Tories now have a mandate to go further and faster reforming the NHS. In order to make cost savings there is likely to be greater private involvement in running services, while some smaller hospitals may lose services they currently provide like A&E and maternity units
5/8 There will be many more free schools – and traditional state schools will become a thing of the past
The Tories plans to create 500 new free schools and make 3,000 state schools become academies. They will also carry on reforming the Department of Education and remove more powers from local authorities over how schools are run
6/8 On shore wind farms will be a thing of the past and fracking will be the future
Government spending on renewable energy is under real threat now the Lib Dems are no longer in power with the Tories. Subsidies are likely to be slashed for off-shore wind farm and other green energy supplies. Meanwhile there will be generous tax break for fracking as ministers try and incentivise the industry to drill for onshore oil and gas
7/8 There maybe more free childcare – but not necessarily
In the campaign the Tories pledged to double the amount of free early education for three- and four-year-olds from 15 hours a week to 30. The extra hours would only be offered to working families where parents are employed for at least eight hours a week. However they have not said where the money will come from to fund the pledge
8/8 Workers' rights could be reduced
The Tories want to slash business regulation, merge regulator and cut costs. The Lib Dems stopped them from reducing the employment rights of workers in power – but these are now under threat
“It is disappointing that this [summary] was not available at the same time as the figures were released,” Sir Andrew wrote in response to the complaint by the fact-checking website Full Fact.
“The Code of Practice for Official Statistics expects that ‘Statistical reports should be released into the public domain in an orderly manner that promotes public confidence and gives equal access to all’ and that producers should ‘publish details of the methods adopted'.
“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.
“UK Statistics Authority officials will have further discussions with those involved to avoid the recurrence of such problems.”
Full Fact said that the public had been shut out of the debate by Downing Street's vague explanation of the figures.
Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) and a former chief economist at the Cabinet Office, was among those treating the 43 per cent figure with incredulity on Tuesday.
“They appear to have taken the number of EU/EEA migrants claiming benefits from DWP data, made some ‘adjustments’, and divided by the number of EU/EEA migrants here for less than four years according to the LFS,” the Times newspaper quoted him as saying on Tuesday.
Mr Portes described some aspects of the figures as “very suspicious” and contrary to statistical “common sense”.
The Government has previously been criticised by the UK Statistics Authority for its use of statistics around welfare benefits.
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith was admonished in 2013 for claims about the benefit cap the watchdog said were “unsupported by official statistics”.Reuse content