A government that cannot understand its own statistics cannot understand the reality of poverty

News release from the Methodist Church media service:

‘Let’s get the facts straight’. Yes, Mr Cameron, please do.

  • Government stats misleading on Monday, wrong on Wednesday
  • Prime Minister neither understands his own figures nor the real consequences of welfare reform, say Churches

Four major British Churches have criticised David Cameron for neither understanding his Government’s own figures nor recognising the reality of more and more people facing destitution.
The Church of Scotland, Baptist Union of Great Britain, Methodist Church, United Reformed Church and charity Housing Justice, which collectively represent more than a million people, have responded to an article by the Prime Minister in today’s Daily Telegraph. In the piece, Mr Cameron claims that the number of workless households doubled over the last decade, when ONS data shows that they increased from 3.7 million in 1997 to 3.9 million in 2010, not 7.4 million as his claim would suggest.

“Mr Cameron repeats tired and discredited numbers which paint an inaccurate picture of ‘welfare dependent’ families spending years on benefits and receiving huge amounts of money,” said Paul Morrison, Public Issues Policy Adviser and author of The lies we tell ourselves: ending comfortable myths about poverty, a report dispelling six common myths about poverty.

The Prime Minister stated that that almost a million and a half people spent the last decade out of work. He did not mention that most of these people were sick or carers. Only 1,000 were unemployed for a decade – the remainder were unable to work due to illness or caring responsibilities. According to the government’s own statistics, more people received benefits due to terminal illness and yet survived for a decade, than were unemployed for a decade.

He also spoke of people claiming ‘unlimited amounts of housing benefit’ and yet in 2010 only 0.01% of households received more than £40,000 in housing benefit. In the same year, more than half of housing benefit claims were for less than £4,000 for the year.
“If Mr Cameron can’t even understand his own figures, how will he ever grasp the reality of UK poverty?” added Mr Morrison. “We have spent this past year campaigning and writing to Mr Cameron and his ministers about how his Government’s misuse of statistics denigrates the poor – and we have yet to receive either explanation or correction.

“It is disappointing that the response to the Archbishop has been characterised by misleading numbers from the DWP Press Office on Monday and straightforwardly untrue numbers from the Prime Minister on Wednesday.

“Last year half a million people relied on foodbanks, this year we expect that number to be much higher. The key question – why Churches and charities are seeing more people in abject destitution – remains unanswered.

“Mr Cameron says he wants to stick to the facts, and that is the fact he urgently needs to address.”

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About Holloway Rev

Paul Weary is a Methodist minister living and working in Holloway, North London.
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