NEWS23 November 2022

Concerns raised over transparency of Home Office statistics

News Public Sector UK

UK – The Office for Statistics Regulation has written to the Home Office to flag concerns about the use of unpublished data and statistics by government ministers, specifically around claims made about immigration.

Home office

In September, Priti Patel, then home secretary, stated in parliament that 60% of arrivals on small boats over the summer were Albanian nationals, before the Home Office released statistics on the issue on 2nd November.

Earlier this month, minister for immigration Robert Jenrick told parliament that one in five Albanian adult male migrants claim to be under 18.

Fact-checking organisation Full Fact raised both claims with the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR), the regulatory arm of the Statistics Authority, saying it was unable to verify the figure quoted by Jenrick as the Home Office has not published data on Albanian adult male migrants claiming to be children.

Public statements from government ministers should be based on the latest published official statistics “where possible”, Ed Humpherson, director general for regulation at the OSR, said in a letter (dated 21st November) to Matthew Rycroft, under-secretary of state of the Home Office.

“Public access to the data and statistics which inform policy decisions is important to allow public scrutiny and informed engagement”, Humpherson wrote in the letter.

He continued: “Given the continued public interest in and use of immigration statistics, I urge the Home Office to review ways of working to ensure that the transparent release and use of Home Office data and statistics is the default in future.”

In the absence of official statistics, information should be published as soon as possible after any statement has been made, according to the OSR letter. 

The two-month delay in the publication of statistics on the proportion of Albanians on small boats following Patel’s statement was “a significant gap” during which time the data was “not equally accessible to all in line with the Code of Practice for Statistics”, the regulator said.

The Code of Practice for Statistics sets the standards that producers of official statistics should commit to, and applies to everyone working in organisations producing official statistics. 

Will Moy, chief executive of Full Fact, said: “We welcome this intervention from the Office for Statistics Regulation. Concerns about immigration continue to dominate headlines. This is a sensitive and emotive topic which requires accuracy and transparency. Instead, we’ve seen repeated, unevidenced claims that fail to show a commitment to transparency from our elected officials. 

“Government ministers should be ready to share the evidence behind claims when they’re made, not months afterwards. We deserve to know the facts behind our country’s immigration policy, now.”

Research Live contacted the Home Office prior to the publication of this article. The Home Office has not yet provided an official response to the letter, but has received the letter and will respond to the OSR.