What they didn't want you to know : Disclosures

Muriel Nissel on a worrying social trend: censorship

Share
Related Topics
It is 25 years since a new government publication brought together in one volume comprehensive statistics about the social life of the country. It was called Social Trends, and I was the original editor. This year, for the silver jubilee issue, I was commissioned to write a major review article. This article, written in close consultation with all the main editors who succeeded me, has been blatantly suppressed. It was made clear to me that the article would only be published if it were confined to a description of the original purposes set out in the 1970s compared with those of the editor today. But that would have left unrecorded important shifts in government attitudes to social statistics, without which a review of the official statistical serviceis seriously incomplete.

Social Trends set out to give some answers to the questions people started asking in the Sixties about how far economic progress was being reflected in improvements in the quality of life. There was at that time very little such information, and so the development of Social Trends during its early years went hand in hand with a determined drive to improve social statistics. It was also thought to be part of the democratic tradition that the civil service should make widely available relevant facts about the economy and society.

In 1979, after the Conservative victory in the General Election, there was a major change in ministerial attitudes. There were to be severe cuts in government expenditure and Sir Derek Rayner was asked to examine the Government Statistical Service. The review concluded that "... there is no more reason for government to act as universal provider in the statistical field than in any other". Moreover the Rayner team could find little or no specific use within government for Social Trends.

The publication survived, but with a revised editorial stressing the relevance of the material for government, and more closely arranged around departmental needs. The emphasis was more on Mr and Mrs Average and their families, rather than those who werevulnerable. There was less analysis by income group, region, social class or family type. Thus, the publication failed adequately to chart a fundamental trend of the decade: the growing inequality in incomes and the widening differences within the country.There was another, subtle, change. Any organisation facing cutbacks is liable to be cautious about sensitive information which may displease its superiors. Government statisticians were no exception; they screened more carefully material sent to otherdepartments and consulted their policy branches more readily. Although the autonomy of the editor of Social Trends in selecting material was unchanged, departments themselves had more control of what was made available.

And occasionally departments made changes, such as in the commentaries on unemployment statistics. But statisticians have high professional integrity and for the most part pressures, particularly those relating to health indicators, were withstood. The pressure should not have been brought in the first place.

In recent years attitudes have again shifted: much more information has been given in Social Trends on topics such as inequality, and government has encouraged wider availability of statistics. Indeed last year's volume opened with the statement that it was aimed at all sections of society.

Regrettably whatever the Government may say in print is not being followed in practice, as the suppression of my article underlines. Unless government is prepared to support a statistical service which publishes uncomfortable as well as comfortable factsa democratic society will not have confidence in it. It is perhaps now time to review the organisation and independence of the Government Statistical Service. People expect sound and reliable information free from government interference so that they can judge for themselves the impact of government policies without having it filtered through bureaucratic eyes. Why the article was censored remains a mystery. Looking over one's shoulder at what the boss might say?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Polish minister Rafal Trazaskowski (second from right)  

Poland is open to dialogue but EU benefits restrictions are illegal and unfair

Rafal Trzaskowski
The report will embarrass the Home Secretary, Theresa May  

Surprise, surprise: tens of thousands of illegal immigrants have 'dropped off' the Home Office’s radar

Nigel Farage
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie