Just 1 in 4 people trust Government to present official statistics honestly

Ministers have  been repeatedly blasted by the UK Statistics Authority for being misleading

Jon Stone
Political Correspondent
Monday 27 February 2017 14:50 GMT
Boris Johnson, now the Foreign Secretary, backed the £350 million figure despite Vote Leave being rebuked by the official statistics watchdog
Boris Johnson, now the Foreign Secretary, backed the £350 million figure despite Vote Leave being rebuked by the official statistics watchdog

Just one in four members of the British public trust the Government to honestly present official statistics, a study has found.

British Social Attitudes survey, conducted by the National Centre for Social research, found that large majorities of people questioned the presentation of figures ranging from unemployment rates to crime levels.

90 per cent of people trusted the Office for National Statistics to produce accurate statistics, but just 26 per cent said the Government would present these accurately.

In addition just 18 per cent believed the statistics would not be further distorted by newspapers.

The findings come days after the UK Statistics Authority told a government department to stop using potentially misleading figures to downplay the level of homelessness in the UK.

The watchdog said claims by the Department for Communities and Local Government that homelessness was going down were “disappointing” and did not provide “a comprehensive picture” because they only focused on a narrow definition.

During the EU referendum the Statistics Authority branded Vote Leave’s false claim that the UK paid the EU £350 million “misleading”. Many Conservative luminaries of Vote Leave are now Government ministers, including Boris Johnson the Foreign Secretary.

At the Conservative party conference last year Brexit Secretary David Davis said such issues were not important.

“What is important is not what is said. It’s whether it’s challenged, in the first instance, and then the British public can make a judgment,” he said of misleading claims made during the referendum.

Last year the UK Statistics Authority wrote to the Office for National Statistics expressing a concern that differences in UK migration data could be undermining public confidence in such government figures.

The Department for Work and Pensions has also been subject to complaints about its statistics, with DWP ministers receiving more letters from the UK Statistics Watchdog than any other department, according to coverage from 2014.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has also been rebuked by the watchdog for falsely claiming that he had not cut the NHS..

Ian Simpson, Senior Researcher at NatCen Social Research, said “Our findings show high levels of public trust in the important data collected by the ONS on British society and the economy.

“The public clearly thinks, however, that issues arise when Government and newspapers get involved – especially where the results might be politically sensitive such as on employment or crime levels.”

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