Response from Sir Robert Chote to Stephen Kinnock MP – asylum backlogs

Dear Mr Kinnock,

Thank you for your letter of 19 December. You raised concerns about inconsistent claims made by government Ministers on the size of the backlog of undecided asylum applications. I apologise for the delay in responding, as we were attempting to confirm with Ministers the basis of the figures cited.

You gave three examples of statements made in December 2022:

  • On 13 December the Prime Minister said that the current backlog was half the size that it was when Labour was in office.[1]
  • Sarah Dines, Minister for Safeguarding, said on 14 December that over half a million legacy cases had been left by the last Labour government.[2]
  • On 19 December Robert Jenrick, the Minister for Immigration, said that 450,000 legacy cases had been left by the last Labour government.[3]

In 2006, the Home Office embarked on a clearance exercise that set out to deal with the then backlog of asylum applications. In May 2010, at the time of the General Election, this exercise was still underway. This work is discussed in detail in the April – July 2011 report of the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee[4] which you highlighted in your letter. The Committee took evidence from the Chief Executive of the UK Border Agency that the clearance exercise was completed by March 2011, by which time 500,500 cases had been reviewed[5]. Although the backlog included some current applications, 56% were duplications, errors or applications moved to the ‘controlled archive’. Those moved to this controlled archive often involved applicants who were untraceable, deceased or had become an EU citizen through another channel.

In March 2013, a subsequent report by the Home Affairs Committee[6] criticised the quality of data provided by the UK Border Agency to the Committee. The Committee referred to a 2012 report by the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration[7], which found that during the backlog clearance exercise, regular checks were not being carried out on applications before they were moved to the controlled archive. This means that some of the archived applications should have remained live, further reducing the quality of the data.

Given the data quality issues at that time, it would not be reasonable to suggest that this management information from the UK Border Agency accurately represented half a million genuine undecided asylum applications then in the backlog.

The most appropriate source of statistics on asylum applications awaiting a decision are produced by the Home Office and reported quarterly[8]. These tell us that the number of applications awaiting a decision was 18,954 in June 2010[9]. This is the earliest published data and coincides closely with the 2010 General Election. The same spreadsheet also provides the latest number of undecided asylum applications which was 166,261 at the end of December 2022. This means that during the period from June 2010 to December 2022 there has been a net increase in undecided asylum applications of 147,307, not a halving.

You cited figures from the Institute for Government, which are drawn from this same source, and from the House of Commons Library, which was using statistics on ‘work in progress’. In addition to applications awaiting a decision, the ‘work in progress’ measure also includes cases awaiting an appeal outcome and awaiting deportation.

The statements by Ministers that you asked about do not reflect the position shown by the Home Office’s statistics. I have engaged with their offices to bring this to their attention and share the UK Statistics Authority’s expectations for the use of official statistics and data in public debate.

I am copying this letter to the Minister for Immigration.


Yours sincerely,

Sir Robert Chote



[1] Illegal Immigration, Hansard, 13 December 2022

[2] Asylum Seeker Employment and the Cost of Living, Hansard, 14 December 2022

[3] Asylum Backlog, Hansard, 19 December 2022

[4] The work of the UK Border Agency (April–July 2011) (PDF), Home Affairs Committee, 1 November 2011

[5] Correspondence from UK Border Agency to the Chair of the Committee, Home Affairs Committee, 12 September 2011

[6] The work of the UK Border Agency (July-September 2012) (PDF), Home Affairs Committee, 25 March 2013

[7] ICIBI report of legacy asylum and migration cases, November 2012, Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, 22 November 2012

[8] Asylum and resettlement datasetsAsy_Do3: Asylum applications awaiting a decision, Home Office, last updated 23 February 2023

[9] The figure for 2010 is not straightforward to access due the formatting of this spreadsheet. It can be viewed by clearing or adjusting the filter in cell B3 on sheet ‘Asy_d03’.

Related links:

Letter from Stephen Kinnock MP to Ed Humpherson – asylum backlogs

Response from Martin Weale to Ed Humpherson – Office for Statistics Regulation External Scrutiny Programme

Dear Ed,

Office for Statistics Regulation External Scrutiny Programme

Thank you for sharing in high-level terms your proposal to enhance the governance procedures for the UK statistical system’s production of economic statistics now that we have left Eurostat, via an External Scrutiny Programme. I am sorry a reply has taken so long.

My colleagues on NSCASE and I welcome the opportunity to continue to provide input on the design of this extension of your role. We have a strong and shared interest in assuring our users that our key economic statistics are of the highest quality.

We agree that the pilot on PPIs you are currently undertaking will be useful in developing the new arrangements and look forward to working with you as appropriate as it proceeds. In particular it will be a good way to ensure that your new assessments do not overlap with any advice on classifications NSCASE may wish to make.

We are pleased to see that you will draw on international experts. Where NSCASE is in a position to offer expert advice or offer any other form of help, we will be extremely happy to do so.

We appreciate the OSR’s focus on international comparability. Nevertheless, please be aware that international comparability is only one of the criteria that NSCASE uses when deciding on what advice to offer the National Statistician. In particular, UK specific factors may lead NSCASE to advise departure from the international norms for very good reasons. Any such reasons will be set out clearly in our minutes.

My colleagues and I look forward to engaging with you on the next level of detail of the proposals as the pilot progresses.

I look forward to our meeting on Thursday.


Martin Weale


Related Links

Letter from Ed Humpherson to Martin Weale – Office for Statistics Regulation External Scrutiny Programme

Response from Sir Robert Chote to Daisy Cooper MP – Excess Deaths

Dear Ms Cooper,

Thank you for your letter of 13 January. You had concerns about comments that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care made about official deaths statistics in a radio interview on 11 January.

My office has spoken to the Secretary of State’s office, which clarified that it was not his intention to reject the official statistics, rather he was referring to the changing context since 1951.

There are indeed a range of methods for measuring expected and ‘excess’ deaths and for taking account of trends both long-term and short-term (including the pandemic), and there has been recent interest in the comparative strengths of these. In response, the Office for Statistics Regulation has carried out a review of the methods used by various statistical producers to report on excess deaths and the Office for National Statistics is inviting views to inform a review of its own methods.

Yours sincerely,

Sir Robert Chote


Related links

Letter from Daisy Cooper MP to Sir Robert Chote – Excess Deaths

Letter from Daisy Cooper MP to Sir Robert Chote – Excess Deaths

Dear Sir Robert,

I am writing to raise concerns about the dismissal of official excess death statistics by the Secretary of State for Health and Social care, the Rt Hon Steve Barclay MP.

The statistics, produced by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), show that the UK saw 50,000 excess deaths in 2022, making it the worst year since 1951, excluding the Covid pandemic.

In an interview by Nick Ferrari of LBC News on the 11th January 2023, the Health Secretary said he did not accept those figures, stating: “Well, what I am saying is we don’t accept those figures” This appears to be in direct conflict with the findings of the ONS, which show: “The number of deaths from all causes was above the five-year average in the week ending 30 December 2022 (Week 52).”

It is irresponsible for a member of the Government, let alone the Secretary of State for Health, to reject the findings of official health statistics. It undermines the credibility of the ONS and casts dispersions on the validity and impartiality of the statistics produced by the ONS.

Misuse, or in this case rejection of statistics by politicians, can lead to pressure for policies that are not supported by the data, or an excuse for inaction in the face of crises.

I therefore ask that you investigate the Secretary for Health and Social Care’s comments and offer your guidance on whether or not it is appropriate for government ministers to refuse to accept statistics on registered deaths published by the Office for National Statistics.

I look forward to your response on this matter.

Yours sincerely,

Daisy Cooper MP

Related links

Response from Sir Robert Chote to Daisy Cooper MP – Excess Deaths

Response from Sir Robert Chote to Dame Angela Eagle MP – Public sector pay

Dear Dame Angela,

Thank you for contacting us with your concerns about two figures that have been used by Government Ministers to describe the potential cost to households of public sector pay increases, namely that “if everyone in the public sector had a pay rise in line with inflation, it would cost an extra £28 billion, an extra £1,000 per household” (cited, for example, by Health Secretary Steve Barclay MP on 7 December 2022).

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury explained in reply to a Parliamentary Question a week later, on 15 December, how these figures had been calculated. The £28 billion was calculated by taking the 2021-22 public sector pay bill, increasing it by around 5 per cent to reflect pay awards this year and then adding a further 11.1 per cent uplift for 2023-24, reflecting the increase in consumer prices in the year to October 2022. The calculation was also adjusted for the impact of pay drift and workforce growth. The aggregate gross cost calculated on this basis was then divided by the number of households in the country to give the figure of £1,000 per household

As a number of commentators – including from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and Full Fact – have pointed out, these calculations include a number of judgements and assumptions that others might wish to debate, including the choice of inflation adjustment, whether to include the impact of increased tax and national insurance payments by public sector workers, and whether it is appropriate to quote an average sum across all households when the impact would be felt differentially depending on household income and other factors. (In this context, you point out that the pay increases could be funded partly from taxes on business, but it is important to remember that all taxes are ultimately paid by individuals and households).

Given the judgements and assumptions involved, it would clearly have been desirable – and in line with the Office for Statistics Regulation’s principles of intelligent transparency – for the Government to have explained clearly and accessibly how such a high-profile number had been calculated as soon as it was put into the public domain, allowing MPs and commentators to debate them in an informed way from the outset. My office has engaged with the Treasury to make this point.

Yours sincerely,

Sir Robert Chote


Related links

Dame Angela Eagle MP to Sir Robert Chote – Public sector pay

Response from Sir Robert Chote to Dr Sandesh Gulhane MSP – Waiting time statistics

Dear Dr Gulhane,

Thank you for your letter of 9 November asking us to investigate concerns about statistics on Accident and Emergency (A&E) waiting times in Scotland. The Scottish Government has a target that 95 per cent of people attending A&E should be seen within four hours.

Your letter refers to an article in the Scotsman, which points out that an estimated 2,000 patients who present at the Acute Assessment Unit (AAU) of Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital each month are excluded from Public Health Scotland’s (PHS) monthly waiting times statistics. The author suspects there may be inconsistencies in data collection here because patients presenting at an apparently similar Assessment Unit – the Medical Assessment Unit (MAU) at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh – are included.

The monthly A&E statistics (and the Government target) cover all types of A&E site, including Emergency Departments, Minor Injury Units, and smaller community casualty sites. Virtual attendances and activity taking place in trolleyed areas of assessment units, which are often located alongside A&E departments, should also be included. Patients admitted to staffed beds in an Assessment Unit (rather than spending time on trolleys or chairs) are considered Emergency Admissions rather than A&E attendances and should be included in separate Inpatient and Day Case Statistics to which the four hour A&E access standard does not apply.

A&E statistics for the Western General Hospital include activity for both the Minor Injuries Unit and trolleyed areas of the MAU. For the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, patients coming into trolleyed areas of the AAU via the Emergency Department should be included in the statistics. We understand from PHS that, due to limitations of the current data collection, activity in trolleyed areas of assessment units cannot be differentiated in the data. Therefore, statistics for the AAU are not reported separately but should be included as part of the overall A&E activity reported for the hospital. PHS has acknowledged this issue and is undertaking further work to assess whether or not all relevant activity in this assessment unit is being included in A&E submissions it receives.

In addition to the monthly A&E statistics, Public Health Scotland also publishes weekly waiting times statistics, which are often used by the media to report and compare hospital performance against the Scottish Government target. However, these are confined to Emergency Departments, which PHS defines as “large hospital departments which typically provide a consultant-led, 24-hour service with full resuscitation facilities and designated accommodation for the reception of emergency patients”.

The way in which services and facilities are defined in the monthly and weekly statistics is clearly very important to understand from a user perspective, especially in the context of the Government target. Background information and a glossary are available online, but the recent confusion suggests that they should be made more accessible and transparent for users. The Office for Statistics Regulation has suggested this to PHS. It has also asked PHS to communicate more clearly any caveats regarding data collection issues across various sites.

Separately, you raised a concern that initiatives adopted by individual hospitals may result in inconsistencies in the statistics. This recent Herald article claims that NHS Tayside fares well in the statistics due to a ‘continuous flow’ model at Ninewells Hospital, which means that some patients who would be waiting on trolleys to be seen in A&E elsewhere wait instead on trolleys in the acute medical receiving unit – where they do not count towards the waiting times estimates. It is not for us to say how hospitals should manage their emergency admissions policies, but the Office for Statistics Regulation has urged PHS to make it clear where this is likely to create difficulties in comparing waiting time statistics across hospitals and boards.

Finally, it is important to ensure that PHS guidance on data collection and classification is applied consistently across health boards. PHS has advised us that it is reviewing this guidance due to the increasing emergence of new clinical pathways to A&E. The Office for Statistics Regulation will continue to engage with PHS as it does so and as it responds to our feedback on the presentation of its statistics.

The issues raised in this case around difficulties making comparisons on NHS data in Scotland are indicative of a longstanding broader challenge in getting comparable data on healthcare provision across the UK, between nations and within them. It is important that users of statistics are able to compare the performance of the NHS across the UK on issues such as the waiting times for emergency care, and I encourage statistical producers to take this into account as they develop their statistics.

Yours sincerely,

Sir Robert Chote


Related links

Dr Sandesh Gulhane MSP to Sir Robert Chote – Waiting time statistics

Dame Angela Eagle MP to Sir Robert Chote – Public sector pay

Dear Sir Robert,

Misleading figures on public sector pay increases

I am writing to raise concerns over two figures used by Government Ministers regarding the total cost, and cost per household, of public sector pay increases which I believe to be inaccurate and misleading.

A number of Government Ministers, including the Prime Minister, have claimed that public sector pay increases would cost households an “extra £1000 per year”, calculating a total cost of £28 Billion.

The Prime Minister stated on 9 December 2022 that households would have to “pay an extra £1,000 a year to meet the pay demands of the union bosses“.

I believe this figure is inaccurate and am alarmed by the Government’s use of deliberately inflated figures regarding the cost of such pay increases.

The Government appears to have reached their £28 Billion figure by increasing the £233bn 2021-2022 public sector pay bill by around 5% to reflect pay deals for 2022-23 (reaching a figure of £245bn). They have then taken 11% of this total, reflecting most recent CPI inflation figures (October 2022), coming to a total of £27 Billion onto which an additional £1 Bill ion has been added from “assumptions on pay drift and workforce growth” to reach £28 Billion.

The ‘£1000 per Household’ claim has been reached by dividing the above £28 Billion by the 28
million households in the UK.

It has been widely commented that these calculations fail to acknowledge a number of issues:

  • As the IFS have highlighted, “spending plans were set last autumn on the assumption of 2-3% pay awards” which are “already built in
  • The Government’s figure does not incorporate this – surely, their calculations ought only to address increases that are additional to sums they have previously budgeted for.
  • Any pay increase would be in part returned to the Treasury in the form of higher tax payments, reducing the cost of an increase significantly.
  • The £1000 per household claim assumes that pay increases would be funded solely through taxes paid by ‘ordinary’ households – disregarding the use of other avenues or taxation such as from businesses. It also assumes that taxes such as income tax are levied equally across households, and therefore increases would have a uniform effect which we know not to be the case.

In my capacity as member of the Treasury Select Committee, I raised concerns regarding these figures with HM Treasury officials on 12 December 2022 during their evidence session. Whilst Cat Little, Second Permanent Secretary at HM Treasury highlighted the above breakdown of these sums, James Bowler CB, Permanent Secretary, HM Treasury advised he was not aware of the figures’ origins, but instead referred to the “established procedure” of the UK Statistics Authority in regulating claims by Government Ministers and politicians more generally.

I am concerned that Government Ministers are using misleading statistics publicly regarding the cost of pay rises, and believe it is critical that figures used are accurate.

I would welcome your view on the Government’s use of both the £28 Billion figure, and the £1000 per household per year figure. I would be grateful for your verification of these figures, and your advice on the Government, and its Minsters’, continued use of them.

I look forward to your response.
With kind regards,

Dame Angela Eagle MP


Related links

Response from Sir Robert Chote to Dame Angela Eagle MP – Public sector pay

Response from Humza Yousaf to Sir Robert Chote

Dear Sir Robert Chote,

Thank you for your letter of 1 November 2022 and the work of the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) to review and share lessons for health and social care statistics from the COVID-19 pandemic.

As noted in your report, the role of analysts in providing high quality evidence and timely insights has been critical during the pandemic to inform our understanding and decision making and I share your appreciation and thanks to all of our analysts. It was fantastic to see the efforts of the COVID and Flu National Vaccination Programme Team rewarded by winning the Top Team Award at this year’s Scottish Health Awards. This was very much a collaborative effort involving numerous colleagues including analysts within the Scottish Government, Public Health Scotland, the wider NHS and beyond.

Whilst we continue to closely monitor COVID-19, our analysts play a key role in providing evidence across the full range of health and care programmes, including supporting NHS recovery and the introduction of the National Care Service. The development of Scotland’s first Data Strategy for health and social care is progressing and this will set out the vision and ambitions for how we use data to deliver better services, greater innovation, and ensure the people of Scotland have greater access to, and greater control over, their health and social care information. We will of course ensure the Data Strategy reflects the important use of data to produce statistics and research to serve the public good.

The Scottish Government remains committed to learning lessons and we acknowledge the importance of delivering in the areas highlighted in your report – horizon scanning to understand users needs, making data and statistics available in an accessible, transparent and timely way, collaboration and communication – to provide high quality, trusted and valued statistics.

My officials from Health and Social Care Analysis (HSCA) division regularly meet with OSR’s Health and Social Care team and will keep them updated on our work and continual improvements across our statistics.

Yours sincerely,

Humza Yousaf


Related links

Sir Robert Chote to Humza Yousaf MSP – COVID-19 lessons learnt

Response from Sir Robert Chote to Drew Hendry MP – Trade deal statistics

Dear Mr Hendry,

Thank you for contacting us with your concerns about a trade infographic shared by the Conservative Party on Twitter, which stated that the Government has “secured new free trade deals with over 70 countries since 2016. That’s over £800 billion worth of new global trade”.

As regards the figure of £800 billion, we presume that this has been calculated from figures for UK trade by country published by the Office for National Statistics. These show that the value of total trade with the EU was £559 billion in 2021 (exports of £267 billion plus imports of £292 billion) and that the value of total trade with the 71 non-EU countries with which the UK has agreed trade deals since 2016, including those where existing deals with the EU have been rolled over, was £245 billion, giving a total of £804 billion. These non-EU countries include 67 listed by the Department for International Trade plus Australia, Brunei, Malaysia and New Zealand (with whom the Government has signed deals that are not yet in force).

Under the principles of intelligent transparency, we would expect the infographic to include a source for the figure so that the public can verify the numbers, understand the definitions used and put the data into context. More specifically in this case, it is misleading to describe the £800 billion figure as a measure of “new global trade” resulting from the recent deals. That would imply that there had been no trade with these countries before the recent deals and that there would be none now without them.

We have spoken to the Conservative Party and asked that any future communications include a link or reference to the source of statistics. We have also requested that the Party be more transparent about the context and assumptions that have been made to construct such statements and infographics.

Yours sincerely,

Sir Robert Chote


Related links

Drew Hendry MP to Sir Robert Chote – Trade deal statistics

Response from Sir Robert Chote to Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP – Scottish renewable energy statistics

Dear Mr Cole-Hamilton,

Thank you for your letters of 14 November and 28 November regarding statistics on renewable energy in Scotland. You asked us to consider the claim that Scotland has 25 per cent of Europe’s renewable energy potential and cited several examples. Upon reviewing these, we identified that the precise claim made is that Scotland has 25 per cent of Europe’s potential offshore wind resource and it is this claim that we have examined.

This claim is based on external research reports rather than official statistics. This is outside our formal remit, but we have investigated these issues because, as a general principle, we consider that high profile numerical statements should be supported by sound evidence and clearly identified sources.

The claim originated in a 2010 publication by the Scottish Government, drawing on estimates that Scotland has an offshore wind potential of 25GW and Europe one of 102GW. However, these figures are derived from separate studies that are both more than 20 years old and not directly comparable:

  • The estimate of Scotland’s offshore wind potential[1] included all resource at least 5km from the shoreline in waters up to 30m deep, and assumed a turbine density of 8 MW per square km. It did not consider technical, navigational, or environmental issues that may affect installation of turbines.
  • The estimate of Europe’s offshore wind potential only included waters up to 20m deep, and assumed a turbine density of 6 MW per square km. It included only 10 per cent of the resource 0-10km from the shoreline, 50 per cent of the resource 10-30km from the shoreline and none beyond 30km. According to the report, they were based on a “very conservative approach” to come up with the likely “exploitable resource”. The figure is also based on just 11 countries from the then European Community and excludes countries like Norway, Sweden and Finland which have large offshore wind potential.

In summary, the calculation for Europe’s offshore wind potential was much more restrictive than that for Scotland. So, when the figures are used together, they give an inflated picture of Scotland’s potential relative to the rest of Europe.

We understand that Scottish Government and Ministers are already aware that this 25 per cent figure is inaccurate. On 15 November, the Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity, Lorna Slater (Scottish Greens), acknowledged in Holyrood that the figure was “outdated”, but not that it was poorly constructed.

It is good practice for elected representatives to correct their use of official statistics. My office is engaging with the Scottish National Party about its ongoing use of the claim and with the offices of those who have recently used it to emphasise the importance of using quantitative evidence appropriately. The Office for Statistics Regulation is also engaging with colleagues in Scottish Government to understand what more can be done to avoid further use of this claim and to obtain a more accurate and up to date figure for Scotland’s offshore wind potential in comparison to Europe.

Yours sincerely,

Sir Robert Chote

[1] Scotland’s Renewable Resource 2001 [no longer available in full online], Garrad Hassan, 7 December 2001


Related links

Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP to Sir Robert Chote – Scottish renewable energy statistics

Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP to Sir Robert Chote – Further letter on Scottish renewable energy statistics