In September 2013, Ed Miliband told the country that when he becomes prime Minister in 2015 he will freeze domestic fuel prices for twenty months and use that time to reconfigure the energy supply system for the benefit of the country as a whole and not the Big-6 suppliers. Since then a national debate about the crisis in the cost of energy supply and distribution has swept across the political world.
So what does the Tory and Lib Dem government want to do? It should be obvious! When in trouble, fiddle the statistics!!!
Types of Statistical Misuse
Readers will be aware that the Government has frequently been caught red-handed by Labour MPs, Cross-Party Committees and even the UK Statistics Authority for misusing statistics on a number of issues including housing and benefits.
The term ‘misuse of statistics’ covers a multitude of sins.
The Department of Work and Pensions is a serial misuser. Earlier this year, for example, Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary asserted that plans for a £26,000-a-year cap on the amount benefit claimants could receive had already spurred 8,000 unemployed people to find jobs. This was contradicted by the UK Statistics Authority who said his claim was “unsupported” by his own department’s figures. This led Mr Dilnot, the authority’s chairman, to write to Mr Smith seeking assurance that statistics would in future be handled correctly. (Discussion of the government’s misuse of statistics here.
Incidentally, Mr Smith is not a stranger to ‘inaccuracy’! BBC’s Newsnight programme exposed serious inaccuracies relating to his education on an early version of Mr Smith’s Conservative Party website whilst he was leader of the Party.
Muddying the water/smokescreen:
The Government is particularly adept at being very selective with statistics particularly in their persistent attempts to say things were worse under Labour.
Readers might recall a previous posting when we exposed the Prime Minister’s tactic of muddying the water about the growing number of food banks. When asked in Parliament (16th October, 2013) about the fact that the number of people using food banks had tripled over the past year Mr Cameron did not answer the question but claimed. “Food bank usage went up 10 times under the previous Labour Government.”
Strictly speaking he was almost correct. In 2004, The Trussell Foodbank Network had two food banks but as the global financial crisis began to bite in 2008 there were still only 22 food banks in the Network. But the Prime Minister’s claim only tells a part of the story.
By early 2011, The Trussell Trust was supporting 100. Since then the number has multiplied four times to 400 food banks. The history of the spectacular rise in the number of people using food banks is shown below:
By any stretch of the imagination the use of food banks has reached crisis levels. Shame on a Prime Minister who only wants to avoid responsibility for his actions and to make petty party politics out of it.
The Tories have form when it comes to rewriting history. For example in November, the Tory Party were ridiculed for removing a 10-year backlog (2000 – 2010) of Tory speeches from the internet. They even tried to remove the promise that, on election, they would introduce ‘a new kind of transparent politics’.
The intention was to stop voters comparing their pre-election promises with their actions and effects. In the face of public laughter the Tories reinstated the backlog.
Yesterday, 2nd December, they and their Liberal Democrat friends were caught out in more statistical manoeuvring.
They are introducing a different definition of fuel poverty.
The current definition, known as the 10% Indicator, states: ‘a household is defined as being in fuel poverty if it would need to spend more than 10% of its income to achieve an adequate standard of warmth. That standard is set at 21 degrees for the main living room and 18 degrees for other rooms.’
Under the existing definition, it is estimated that 3.2 million households in England may be defined as being in fuel poverty.
The definition of fuel poverty used in the new Energy Bill, presently placed before Parliament, states that households will be deemed as fuel poor “if they have above average fuel costs and were they to spend that amount on fuel they would be left with a residual income below the official poverty line”.
Under the new measure there were 2.4m households (11%) in fuel poverty in England in 2011. The new measure suggests a reduction of 800,000 or 25% of households compared to the old.
The new definition will reduce the number of people in fuel poverty not because the government has tackled the material problem of fuel poverty but because they want to tackle the presentational problem of fuel poverty.
The Parliamentary cross-party Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has rumbled the government’s cynical ploy. The committee’s chair, Labour’s Joan Walley MP, said, “The Government is shifting the goalposts on fuel poverty so that official statistics record far fewer households as fuel-poor. The changes to the fuel-poverty definition and target should be stopped unless the Government is prepared to make a public commitment to end fuel poverty altogether.” The Independent, 2nd December 2013
Instead of trying to redefine the problem away, the Tories and their LibDem friends should be facing the deeply disturbing statistics on fuel poverty.
Such as the 36,000 excess deaths last winter – at least 30% of them estimated to be the result of fuel poverty by the World Health Organisation.
Or the ‘alarming 2.5 million children in this country – double the previously estimated number – living in fuel poverty’ – revealed, note, by ‘the new fuel poverty criteria announced today.’
Peter Grigg, Director of Campaigns and Policy at The Children’s Society
These are the problems which need to be addressed.
Peter Grigg again
‘Much more needs to be done to tackle this critical problem. By giving low income working families direct help with their energy bills and introducing a better programme of home improvements to reduce energy use, children can be moved out of fuel poverty. No child should be condemned to grow up in a cold home.’
Within the bounds of what limited room for manouevre the Coalition has left it, this is exactly what Leeds Labour Council has been trying to do – as we reported yesterday.
By contrast, only this weekend the Tory/LibDem Coalition weakened targets in precisely this area of home insulation for low-income households.
The Coalition government is more than happy to use fiction, smokescreens and definitional conjuring to evade the real issues which face the people of this country, and to show how great they are and how everything was Labour’s fault.
It’s a tired Crosby/Osborne box of tricks – and the public are beginning to rumble it.
But their cynical use of statistics is nonetheless worrying. The more times they are caught out deliberately misleading the public, the more the public will not only take the Coalition less seriously but will take government itself less seriously.
Perhaps this is what THIS government wants. It’s not what we’ll allow them to get away with.
Britain Can Do Better Than This