News, Politics

Stats watchdog warns Tories and Labour over ‘unclear’ manifesto claims

Both the Conservatives and Labour made “unclear” statements about education in their election manifestos, the statistics watchdog has said.

The UK Statistics Authority said the two documents repeated claims it has already issued critical rulings on.

The Conservative manifesto claims the party is providing “an extra £14 billion funding for schools”. The UKSA has previously ruled this claim could be misleading without further context explaining the figure adds together increases for each year.

Meanwhile Labour’s manifesto includes a claim that the Conservatives’ spending plan “leaves 83 per cent of schools still facing cuts next year”. The UKSA said it had previously investigated a similar statistic – from the union-run School Cuts campaign – which it found was “misleading” for creating a “worse picture” of school funding.

On the Conservative claim, the UKSA said today the manifesto “fails to provide” the clarity demanded after the government was warned over using the £14 billion figure in October.

The UKSA statement read: “The manifesto introduction mentions a time frame when referring to this increase, however when explaining changes in school funding dates or baselines are not given. The manifesto also translates the figure into a per week basis. The basis for the per week calculation is unclear.”

The UKSA said the £14 billion figure was produced by “adding together and then rounding increases across three years”. School budgets will in fact rise by £7.1 billion in cash-terms by 2022-23 if the Conservatives implement their plans.

At the time, the Office for Statistics Regulation, the UKSA’s regulatory arm, said there was “a risk that the figures could mislead: for example, people who read no further might expect that the headline figure of £14 billion refers to an annual increase”.

Labour’s manifesto claim that the Tories’ spending plan “leaves 83 per cent of schools still facing cuts next year” is based on a comparison between 2015-16 and 2020-21, not a change that will specifically occur next year.

In January, the UKSA warned the coalition that an earlier headline figure, which stated that 91 per cent of schools faced funding cuts, risked giving “a misleading impression of future changes in school budgets”.

The authority said today: “Following discussion with the Office for Statistics Regulation in January, the union made changes to their School Cuts website to explain the methodology.

“Without this context, the headline statement is likely to give an unclear impression of future changes in school budgets.”

The intervention comes amid a growing row over the use of statistics during the election campaign.

Early last month, Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, repeated a claim about the quality of schools that had previously been criticised by the UKSA for not giving the “full picture”.

The Conservatives were later criticised again after it emerged a high-profile dossier revealing the “£1.2 trillion cost” of Labour’s policies included details for a schools policy the party has not committed to.

The DfE has also been rapped five times in the past 24 months over its use of statistics. However the UKSA said today it was “encouraged” by the DfE’s announcement it will publish new summary statistics on school funding in January.

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