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Boris criticised for false poverty claims

PM’s claims about the decline of poverty under his government called into question

Boris is a good news politician. However, when the news isn’t good, he is susceptible to spinning the truth. This has now got in him hot water with childhood poverty charities after a series of misleading claims. By Michael Delaney.

Ultimately misleading

The Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR), a stats watchdog, has called into question our PM’s claims about the decline of poverty under his government.

This announcement comes off the back of a complaint levied by the End Child Poverty Coalition, which identified claims Boris had made inaccurately, it is alleged.

In a letter to the OSR, End Child Poverty Coalition chairwoman Anna Feuchtwang said: “It cannot be right that official figures on something as fundamental as how many children are in poverty continue to be used selectively, inaccurately and, ultimately, misleadingly.

Relative vs absolute poverty

Relative poverty is calculated by taking the median or middle income in the country.

When the financial crash of 2008 arrived, relative poverty declined, but that was because the median dropped due to people losing their jobs or taking pay cuts. So can be a little misleading.

The second method is absolute poverty. It applies it to the median income of a fixed year – 2010-11 – and therefore better measures the long term view of poverty, taking into account things like inflation. However, if the better-off improve significantly, this figure can still hide the real picture.

What are the claims?

1. “Absolute poverty and relative poverty have both declined under this government.”

Incorrect. Relative poverty in the UK has actually increased from 13.6m in 2009-10 to 14.5m in 2018-19. Absolute poverty has declined by 100,000 in the same period to 12.9m.

Of course, Boris says “under this government”. He’s only been in power a year, but the figures for poverty actually haven’t been released yet…

2. “There are 100,000 fewer children in absolute poverty.”

This is technically correct. The number of children in absolute poverty in the UK has reduced – falling from 3.8m in 2009-10 to 3.7m in 2018-19.

However, when it comes to relative poverty, 30% of people aged under 18 in the UK were living in households in relative poverty in 2009-10.

Today, the proportion is still 30%, which represents about 4.1 million.

However, because the population has increased since 2010, it means 300,000 more children are living in relative poverty now.

3. “There are…500,000 fewer children falling below low-income and material deprivation.”

There has been a decrease, but the real figure is actually closer to 200,000, not 500,000.

4. “There are hundreds of thousands – I think 400,000 – fewer families living in poverty now than there were in 2010.”

Both the BBC and Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England have attempted to verify this, but cannot find the figures used by the government. Downing Street has declined to provide any clarification.

Hiding the reality

Ms Feuchtwang welcomed the OSR’s conclusion: “It is deeply insulting to the children and families swept into poverty when data about them is used selectively and misleadingly at the whim of politicians.”

Critics have accused Johnson of denying the reality and in so causing greater harm. To deny the scale of the problem will prevent the govt from being able to address it properly.