Government used 'misleading' figures to claim homelessness halved, watchdog says

Statistics authority warns Government claims to have halved homelessness only relate to narrow definition of terms

Siobhan Fenton
Social Affairs Correspondent
Wednesday 22 February 2017 12:06
The overall number of people who face homelessness has not dropped
The overall number of people who face homelessness has not dropped

The Government has been ordered to stop using potentially misleading statistics about homelessness in the UK, following an intervention by the UK data watchdog.

The UK Statistics Authority disputed figures announced by the Department for Communities and Local Government, which claimed last year that homelessness had been more than halved since 2003.

However, this claim was found to gloss over the fact that this was only the case under a narrow definition of homelessness; to include only those who authorities are obliged to help. The number did not take into account homeless people who were given assistance under other schemes.

It is thought that those who meet the statutory definition of homelessness has decreased since 2003 due to councils receiving additional funding and powers to intervene and assist, but the overall number of people who face homelessness has not dropped.

Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Grender submitted a formal complaint to the UK Statistics Authority about the use of the figures in this way.

In a letter responding to her concerns, Ed Humpherson, the Authority’s director general, said he agreed with her complaint. He described the Department’s use of the figures as “disappointing” and that it was “potentially misleading” to the public.

Mr Humpherson also stated that he will now seek a commitment from Department staff that they will give “greater clarity” on data usage in the future.

Baroness Grender welcomed the finding saying that the Government “has been caught out playing a numbers game, rather than accepting there is a problem, and getting on with the important work of finding solutions”.

“It is time to stop spinning the statistics and start solving the problem,” she said.

A spokesperson for the Department for Communities and Local Government told The Independent: "We’re aware of the issue raised and have taken steps to make sure this does not arise in future.”

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