Response from Sir Robert Chote to Sandesh Gulhane MSP – minimum unit pricing

Dear Dr Gulhane,

Thank you for your letter of 3 July regarding publications about the impact of minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcohol in Scotland.

You raised concerns about the communication of Public Health Scotland’s (PHS) evaluation of the MUP policy, which concluded in a final report published in June (that synthesized evidence from a number of studies). You also raised concerns about a Scottish Government press release welcoming that report and an earlier health impact study published in March by authors from PHS, the University of Glasgow and the University of Queensland. We have also looked at an ‘at a glance’ document produced by PHS.

Our remit covers the production and use of official statistics and does not extend to research or policy evaluation. As such, we have not conducted a full investigation of the content or methodology of the PHS reports. Instead, we have focused on how statistical evidence has been communicated and we consider that the findings in the final PHS report are communicated clearly and impartially.

Communication of the PHS evaluation report (published June 2023)

The original version of the Scottish Government press release stated that:

“In their final report of a series, researchers said that ‘robust, independent evaluation’ and the best available, wide-ranging evidence drawing on 40 independent research publications, showed that the MUP has been effective in its main goal of reducing alcohol harm with the reduction in deaths and hospital admissions specific to the timing of MUP implementation”.

This wording might suggest to many readers that most or all of the studies referred to examined the health impact of MUP. But the evaluation report explains that of the 40 papers included, only eight provided evidence on alcohol-related health outcomes. The remaining 32 examined other potential effects of the policy such as on alcohol consumption, social outcomes, compliance by retailers and product prices. Of the eight papers which studied health outcomes, one looked at deaths and hospitalisations and found a beneficial quantitative impact on these outcomes. Based on the other seven papers, the report concluded that there was “no consistent evidence that MUP impacted on other alcohol-related health outcomes such as ambulance callouts, emergency department attendances and prescribing of medication for alcohol dependence”.

Communication of the PHS/Glasgow/Queensland study (published March 2023)

The Scottish Government press release and the PHS ‘at a glance’ document both referred to the results of the PHS/Glasgow/Queensland study. However, information about the level of uncertainty associated with the reduction in hospitalisations and deaths was not included in either output, despite being emphasised in the study. For example, the figures are estimates based on statistical modelling and the reduction in hospital admissions was not found to be statistically significant.

Summarising technical data, especially for a public audience, is challenging. Press releases, factsheets, tweets and other communications require condensed information, but it still serves users best to include caveats about the uncertainty or limitations of statistical evidence. In this case, caveats did not carry through from the final PHS report to the press release and ‘at a glance’ document.

The Office for Statistics Regulation has discussed these issues, and its broader guidance on communicating uncertainty, with PHS and the Scottish Government. It is good to see that, as a result, PHS has updated its at-a-glance summary and the Scottish Government has updated its press release to ensure that the uncertainty around the estimates is more clearly communicated. I am also pleased to report that both have committed to improving the communication of uncertainty in future outputs.


Yours sincerely,

Sir Robert Chote


Related links

Letter from Sandesh Gulhane MSP to Sir Robert Chote – minimum unit pricing

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

Dear Mr Kinnock,

Thank you for your letter of 15 June. You raised concerns about the use of asylum backlog statistics by Ministers and the definition of the asylum backlog.

You gave two examples of statements made recently by Ministers:

  • On 8 March, the Prime Minister said the asylum backlog had reduced by 6,000.
  • On 12 June, the Home Secretary said the asylum backlog had reduced by 17,000.

The Home Secretary’s statement of 12 June was initially unclear, but she clarified later in the debate that she was referring to the ‘legacy’ backlog of asylum applications. She had previously explained the distinction that the Home Office draws between ‘legacy’ and ‘flow’ backlogs – namely comprising applications submitted up to, and then on or after, 28 June 2022 – in a letter to the Home Affairs Committee of 29 January.

The Home Office publishes statistics on asylum applications awaiting a decision as part of its asylum and resettlement datasets and it has provided an additional breakdown on this basis since February 2023, following the letter to the Home Affairs Committee. As this is an additional breakdown, not a material change to the statistics, there is no requirement for this to be formally pre-announced by the department.

The figure cited by the Prime Minister was the legacy backlog as of the end of February. It had not been published at the time the Prime Minister used it and it was only included in an ad-hoc statistical release on 24 April. Statistics should be available publicly at the same time or as soon as possible after their use by Ministers or departments, and we welcome improvements that the Home Office has made since then to release publications to support Ministerial statements in a timely manner.

Incidentally, the Prime Minister said in his statement that the decline in the backlog was 6,000 people. This is likely an understatement as that was the decline in the number of outstanding applications, and some asylum applications involve more than one person.


Yours sincerely,

Sir Robert Chote


Related links

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

Response from Sir Robert Chote to Robert Jenrick MP – Asylum Backlog Statistics

Dear Minister,

Thank you for your letter of 17 April responding to concerns about statistics used in discussion of the backlog of outstanding asylum cases[1].

I very much welcome the clarification you made and your acknowledgment of the importance of accurate and appropriate use of evidence and statistics.

In a similar spirit, but on a different topic, concerns have been raised with us about your statement in the House of Commons on 20 March that:

“Today, a majority of the cases being considered for modern slavery are people who are coming into the country – for example, on small boats. We are seeing flagrant abuse, which is making it impossible for us to deal appropriately with the genuine victims, to the point that 71% of foreign national offenders in the detained estate, whom we are trying to remove from the country, are claiming to be modern slaves.”[2]

The Home Office advised us that the quoted figure comes from a recent report about modern slavery referrals for people detained for return after arriving in the UK in small boats[3] and that your statement was intended to refer to the proportion of foreign national offenders (FNOs) that are referred to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) as potential victims of modern slavery.

The report explains that while an increasing proportion of all those in detention after arriving by small boat are referred to the NRM up from 52% in 2020 to 73% in 2021 (and subsequently falling to 65% between January and September 2022), the proportion among foreign national offenders is much lower (at around 20% between January and September 2022).

As you have acknowledged, it is important that published statistics and analysis are quoted accurately and are not misrepresented, to avoid the risk of misleading the public. We have written to the Home Office[4] previously about the importance of ensuring that it is clear whether claims on modern slavery, in particular those relating to people ‘gaming’ or ‘abusing’ the modern slavery system, are sourced from published statistics or from other reliable evidence.

Yours sincerely,

Sir Robert Chote



[1] Letter from Robert Jenrick MP to Sir Robert Chote – Asylum Backlog Statistics, 17 April 2023

[2] Illegal Migration Bill, Hansard, 20 March 2023

[3] Modern slavery referrals for people detained for return after arriving in the UK on small boats, Home Office

[4] Ed Humpherson to Jennifer Rubin: use of National Referral Mechanism statistics, 8 December 2022

Letter from Sandesh Gulhane MSP to Sir Robert Chote – minimum unit pricing

Dear Sir Robert,

I am writing to request a review of the Public Health Scotland report ‘Evaluating the impact of minimum unit pricing for alcohol in Scotland: A synthesis of the evidence’ and the associated publicity and ministerial statements.

It purports to be “the final report from the PHS evaluation of minimum unit pricing for alcohol in Scotland”.

It is likely to be used in Scottish Government decision making on whether to continue with MUP and whether to raise the minimum unit price of alcohol.

However, I am concerned the report and associated publicity and ministerial statements significantly overstate the health impact of MUP, and under-represent the significant uncertainty in the wider body of research and among the scientific community.

I will outline my concerns in turn.

The press release

On 27 June 2023 the Scottish Government distributed the following press release.

It states the conclusion that MUP “has saved lives, reduced hospital admissions and had a positive impact on health” was drawn from “robust, independent evaluation’ and the best-available, wide-ranging evidence drawing on 40 independent research publications”.

It also states: “This follows a study published in March by PHS and University of Glasgow showing MUP reduced alcohol consumption by 3%, deaths directly caused by alcohol consumption by 13.4% and hospital admissions by 4.1%. compared to what would have happened if MUP had not been in place.”

However, this conclusion is not drawn from 40 publications. 32 of these publications referenced in the “final report” are silent on health impacts and focus on other issues such as consumption.

Of the eight publications that do address health impacts, seven of them are inconclusive.

Only one study concluded MUP had reduced deaths — the PHS and University of Glasgow study mentioned in the press release.

This study was led by Grant MA Wyper, public health adviser to PHS.

This “final report” does not “follow the PHS and University of Glasgow study”. It merely restates its findings.

Furthermore, it was not “independent”. It was commissioned by PHS and led by a PHS adviser.

The PHS/Glasgow University report was itself a retread of a report that appeared in The Lancet the previous day.

These reports are presented as two distinct studies in the latest PHS “final report” as Wyper et at (2023a) and Wyper et al (2023b).

This “final report” does not build on the Wyper study. The seven other studies addressing health impacts are inconclusive.

The conclusion that MUP has reduced deaths was not robust, nor drawn from wide-ranging independent evidence. It was drawn from a single PHS report.

Also, the report itself states that the 4.1 per cent reduction in hospitalisations was not statistically significant.

Therefore, the Scottish Government cannot definitively say “MUP reduced…hospital admissions by 4.1%”.

The Lancet study

The assertion that there were 13.4% fewer deaths “compared with what would have been observed in the absence of MUP legislation” overstates the uncertainty in statistical modelling.

No statistical model can say definitively what “would have” happened, as The Lancet study acknowledges in its methodology.

Indeed, “would have” becomes “might have” in the discussion section of the study.

“Study outcomes were assessed using a controlled interrupted time series study design, allowing us to determine the difference between outcomes we observed and our best representation of what might have happened under the counterfactual situation that MUP legislation was not enacted in Scotland.”

It concludes deaths rose faster in England in the absence of MUP therefore MUP “averted…an average of 156 deaths” each year in Scotland.

An additional 156 deaths a year would be a significant acceleration of the trend seen in the preceding 20 years, which was generally downward in the first decade and plateaued in the low thousands before the pandemic.

An acceleration this size was not witnessed in any of the regions of England with a similar population and demographic to Scotland, for example North West England, which saw a post-pandemic increase of a similar magnitude to Scotland despite the cheaper alcohol.

Criticisms of the Lancet study

Dr Adam Jacobs, Senior Director, Biostatistical Sciences at Premier Research, challenged the methodology behind the 13.4 per cent increase.

He said: “It is plausible that the MUP policy would bring down deaths and hospitalisations due to alcohol consumption, but I don’t think this paper shows it convincingly.”

Prof Kevin McConway, Emeritus Professor of Applied Statistics, The Open University, rightly took issue with the “causal interpretation” in The Lancet study.

He said: “This is an observational study, and no matter how well other factors are controlled for, it can never prove conclusively that the changes observed in deaths were due to the minimum unit pricing policy. In my view there hasn’t been enough caution given around assuming this relationship is causal…”

“We can’t say that MUP definitely led to a 13.4% reduction in deaths, though that does clearly remain an important possibility…”

“While it’s possible that the deaths or hospitalisations would have decreased enough to be detectable in the follow-up period here of 32 months after MUP, it’s also possible…that they aren’t clearly detectable on that time scale, though (if they really exist) the effect should show up, and indeed be much larger, later. And given what the time lag specifications look like in the Holmes paper, in another 7 or 8 years the reductions in deaths would be immense, implausibly immense indeed, given the size of the estimate after just over 2.5 years.

“Or it’s possible that what is being picked up in the new study is an effect of a change in alcohol consumption that occurred considerably earlier than MUP, so couldn’t have been caused directly by MUP…”

“So overall, in my view, there remains some doubt about whether MUP definitely caused the alcohol consumption change and therefore whether it is responsible for reductions in deaths.”

The “final report” at a glance

The at a glance conclusion states:

“Overall, the evidence supports that MUP has had a positive impact on health outcomes, including alcohol-related health inequalities.”

However, the finding for health above states:

“MUP reduced deaths directly caused by alcohol consumption by 13.4% and hospital admissions by 4.1%.

“Reductions were greatest for men and those living in the most deprived areas of Scotland.

“There is no consistent evidence of impact, positive or negative, on other health outcomes.”

This is not “overall” evidence. It’s a single study.

The conclusion should have stated:

“One study supports that MUP has had a positive impact on deaths and there is no consistent evidence of impact, positive or negative, on other health outcomes.”

The “final report” briefing

The briefing concludes:

“Taken together, the evidence supports that MUP has had a positive impact on health outcomes.”

Taken together, the evidence does not support this. A single questionable study estimated the reductions of deaths. The rest of the evidence was inconclusive.

The “final report”

Section 3.3 on page 33 confirms evidence relating to alcohol-related health outcomes was drawn from eight papers, not the 40 papers that the press release suggests.

It confirms the 13.4 per cent death reduction figure was drawn solely from the Wyper paper (Item 25 in the bibliography) and confirms the 4.1 per cent reduction in hospitalisations in Wyper was “non-significant”.

It cites Wyper at length but gives short shrift to the other inconclusive papers.

It states:

“The five other papers that contributed relevant quantitative evidence found no evidence of impacts in alcohol-related health outcomes, either positive or negative: there appears to have been no effect at a population level on alcohol-related ambulance callouts, (Manca 2022) prescriptions for treatment of alcohol dependence (Manca 2023) emergency department attendance (So 2021) or the level of alcohol dependence or self-reported health status in drinkers recruited through alcohol treatment services in Scotland, relative to England. (Holmes 2022).”

Ministerial statements

On June 27, Humza Yousaf, Scotland’s first minister tweeted:

“When @ScotGov proposed Minimum Unit Pricing over a decade ago, it was a pioneering approach to tackling alcohol harm and some had their doubts.

“Increasing evidence is now vindicating our approach. It’s saving over 150 lives a year.”

Analysis: There is no increasing evidence. There is one consistently rehashed and questionable PHS paper and about half a dozen inconclusive papers.

On June 27, The SNP tweeted MUP has led to “a major reduction in alcohol related deaths”

Analysis: Alcohol related deaths have risen since MUP was imposed. The SNP omitted the crucial caveat that the reduction was based on a hypothetical model.

Please investigate the matters raised in this correspondence and advise.


Yours faithfully,

Dr Sandesh Gulhane
MSP, Glasgow Region
Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care
Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party


Related links

Response from Sir Robert Chote to Sandesh Gulhane MSP – minimum unit pricing

Response from Sir Robert Chote to Munira Wilson MP – ULEZ statistics

Correction 29/06/23:

On 16 June, Sir Robert Chote wrote to Munira Wilson MP in response to concerns about claims made by the Mayor of London regarding vehicle compliance with the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in Outer London. In our letter, we stated that we were satisfied that the Mayor’s claim is consistent with the data collected by TfL at the time, namely that ‘nine out of 10 of those households in outer London who have a car are compliant’.

We wish to correct this reference. We are satisfied that data collected by TfL supports statements used in its press release that nine out of 10 cars seen driving on an average day in Outer London meet the ULEZ emissions standards.

As set out in TfL’s ULEZ compliance data additional information page, data on the compliance of households in Outer London who have a car are not available. Therefore, this statement made by the Mayor is not supported by publicly available data.



Dear Ms Wilson,

Thank you for your letter of 13 April raising concerns about claims made by the Mayor of London regarding vehicle compliance with the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in Outer London and seeking clarity on whether it would be appropriate for the Mayor to publish the figures underlying those claims.

The Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) has contacted the Mayor’s office and Transport for London (TfL), which assesses ULEZ compliance by cross-referencing camera images of number plates with DVLA records. We are satisfied that data collected by TfL at the time supports the Mayor’s claim that nine in 10 cars seen driving in outer London now meet ULEZ standards. However, data on households in outer London who have a car that meet ULEZ emissions standards are not available. The statement made by the Mayor relating to households in outer London is therefore not supported by publicly available data.

The data underlying the Mayor’s claim on cars driving in outer London were not available to the general public at the time, either from the Mayor’s office or from TfL. Users requesting clarification were provided with additional information, but that too was not made available on an equal basis to the general public. This is inconsistent with our principles of intelligent transparency and with the Code of Practice for Statistics. Like other organisations within the Greater London Authority, TfL voluntarily applies the Code as part of the Mayor’s commitment to transparency.

This case is one of several examples raised with us in which TfL has made statements or issued press releases based on unpublished TfL data or where data quoted are not provided with sufficient context. This prevents interested members of the public from being able to verify the figures, which can undermine trust in the organisations producing the analysis and their other outputs. While some additional information has now been published, I would urge the Mayor and TfL to make this material fully accessible to support understanding on what is a topic of high public interest.

By voluntarily applying the Code, TfL makes a commitment to producing analytical outputs that are of high quality and useful for supporting decisions. OSR has been engaging positively with analytical and communications colleagues in TfL who have been open to suggestions for improvements. TfL is working to further develop its understanding of the Code internally and OSR will continue to provide support and advice.

I am copying this letter to the Mayor of London and the following at TfL – Andy Lord (Commissioner), Howard Carter (General Counsel) and Matt Brown (Director of Communications and Corporate Affairs) to further support the case for the accessible publication of data used in public statements and press releases.

Yours sincerely,

Sir Robert Chote


Related Links

Munira Wilson MP to Sir Robert Chote – ULEZ statistics

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

Dear Sir Robert,

I write, with some regret, to raise fresh concerns about Ministers’ use of official statistics on the asylum backlog. These concerns are related to, but separate from, the issues raised late last year in my letter to you and in your helpful and informative response.

Firstly, on Monday of this week, the Home Secretary told the House that “the asylum initial decision backlog is down by 17,000”.

The ‘asylum backlog’ refers – according to the Home Office’s own definition – to ‘cases awaiting an initial decision’. According to the most recent quarterly statistics published by her Department – the backlog constitutes ‘133,607 cases (relating to 172,758 people)’ as of 31 March 2023.

Our reading of the figures suggests that the backlog has gone up, not down.

Asked to explain the Home Secretary’s claim, the Home Office pointed to an ‘ad-hoc statistical release’ published on 24 April and updated on 5 June. But these monthly data tables prove that – whether you compare the current number to the previous month or the previous quarter – the size of the backlog has risen, not fallen.

Equally, on 8 March the Prime Minister told the House of Commons that:

‘As a result of what we have done, there are now 6,000 fewer people in the asylum case load backlog.’

This appears to be another inaccurate statements to Parliament which is contradicted by their own official data.

Therefore please could you give an opinion on the following questions:

  • Is the view of the UK Statistics Authority that these comments by the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary were inaccurate?
  • Is it your view that Ministers should be using their own Government’s definition – and the long-standing definition – of the asylum backlog, which is ‘cases awaiting an initial decision’?

This brings me to me to my second concerns relating to the Government’s introduction of the so-called ‘legacy backlog’.

Since I wrote to you in December, the Home Office has made changes to the way it measures and reports on the asylum backlog. As far as I can see, the rationale for these changes has not been publicly explained. My concern is that these changes – together with multiple conflicting statements from Ministers about efforts to deal with the backlog – pose a clear risk of seriously undermining public confidence in the government’s use of official statistics.

The key issue relates to the Prime Minister’s commitment last December to ‘abolish’ the backlog of unresolved asylum cases. Following the Prime Minister’s statement in December, both he and the Home Secretary stated that the commitment to ‘abolish’ the asylum backlog in fact relates only to cases dating to before 28 June 2022. Yet, as stated earlier in this letter, this wording does not marry up with the official government definition.

The government has recently started to refer to these cases as the ‘legacy backlog’. The problem is that the term ‘legacy backlog’ appears to be a recent invention of Ministers, and the quarterly statistics released by the Home Office made no distinction between claims made before or after 28 June 2022, until the most recent release of 25 May 2023. In that release, no explanation was given for the reasons why the Department decided to change this way it reports data on outstanding asylum cases.

The only argument, of which I am aware, that could theoretically be made to support the creation of a new category of ‘legacy’ asylum cases is that significant changes to the way in which asylum claims are categorised and processed came into effect on 28 June 2022, pursuant to provisions in Section 12 of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022. Section 12 was brought into effect by changes to the Immigration Rules made in May 2022, which confirmed that the differential treatment of asylum claims would apply to claims made on or after 28 June 2022.

However, just last week the Home Office announced its decision to ‘pause’ implementation of these measures. In light of this decision, the basis for continuing to differentiate between claims made before and after 28 June 2022 appears non-existent.

In spite of this, Ministers have continued to explain the separate reporting of cases in the asylum backlog, based on whether they dated from before or after 28 June 2022, with reference to changes in the rules for processing claims which came not effect on that date.[1] Even if one took such arguments at face value before last week’s announcement, I cannot see how they are of any relevance now that the relevant changes to the immigration rules have now been suspended.

It is my understanding that the Code of Practice for Statistics requires government departments to explain the reasons for any changes in methodology or reporting, particularly in the context of the obligations to publish statistics that are accurate and relevant to members of the public. I have not been able to find any such explanation for the Home Office’s recent reporting changes in the public domain. Notably, the ‘user guide’ published by the department alongside its regular releases of immigration statistics has not been updated to reflect these changes.

I would therefore be grateful if you could offer an opinion on whether or not this change in the way asylum backlog data is reported meets the obligations set out in the Code of Practice for Statistics to publish the most relevant, appropriate data, and to ensure consistency of published data over time?

I would be grateful if you would look into these matters and send me your comments, including your responses to the specific questions above.

If you have any questions about this enquiry, please do not hesitate to contact me.

I look forward to hearing from you.


Kind regards,

Stephen Kinnock
Member of Parliament for Aberavon
Shadow Minister for Immigration



[1] On 14 June 2023, the Secretary of State told Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee that ‘it is very typical and proper to define a legacy backlog; that is when the NABA came into force.’ She later repeated the argument, saying: ‘I would say that we have a case load of cases, and you have to define them in different ways. There are different rules that apply to different cases’.

Related links

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

Response from Sir Robert Chote to Dame Angela Eagle MP – national debt

Dear Dame Angela,

Thank you for your letter regarding a tweet posted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that was retweeted by HM Treasury on 25 April. It stated that: 

“To restore our public finances, I had to take some difficult decisions last autumn. But we have made progress. By 2027-28, headline debt levels are reduced by £53.7 billion…”

Statisticians in HM Treasury have confirmed that this figure refers to the change in the Office for Budget Responsibility’s forecast for public sector net debt between the November 2022 and March 2023 fiscal events, as shown in Table A10 of its March 2023 Economic and fiscal outlook.

As you suggest, some readers of the tweet may have assumed that the Chancellor was referring to the forecast change in public sector net debt between the last full financial year and 2027-28. This shows an increase of £363 billion over these five years, although this corresponds to a reduction from 100.6 to 96.9 per cent of GDP. 

Greater clarity and context would have avoided this confusion. The Office for Statistics Regulation has therefore spoken with officials at HM Treasury to emphasise the importance of consistently adopting a transparent and accessible approach to communicating statistics and data in line with our guidance on intelligent transparency.  

Yours sincerely,
Sir Robert Chote


Related links

Letter from Dame Angela Eagle MP to Sir Robert Chote – national debt

Response from Sir Robert Chote to Alistair Carmichael MP – displaced people

Dear Mr Carmichael,

Thank you for your letter of 10 March about the Home Secretary’s use of statistics on displaced people. In a statement to the House of Commons she said “there are 100 million people around the world who could qualify for protection under our current laws. Let us be clear: they are coming here.” She also wrote in the Daily Mail that “there are 100 million displaced people around the world, and likely billions more eager to come here if possible.”

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) does indeed estimate that there are more than 100 million forcibly displaced people around the world, which includes refugees, asylum-seekers, internally displaced people, and other people ‘in need of international protection’. But this is not an estimate of either the number of people who would qualify for asylum if they were to reach the UK or of the number of displaced people likely to seek asylum in the UK.

UNHCR statistics are not UK official statistics in which the UK Statistics Authority takes a direct interest. However, the Authority encourages ministers and other senior public figures to present numerical evidence from all kinds of sources clearly, so that the public can understand and verify any claims made.

Yours sincerely,

Sir Robert Chote


Related links

Letter from Alistair Carmichael MSP – displaced people

Letter from Dame Angela Eagle MP to Sir Robert Chote – national debt

Dear Sir Robert,

Misleading Government Social Media Content

I am writing to raise concerns over statistics used by the Chancellor of the Exchequer regarding the state of the public finances which I believe to be inaccurate and misleading.

Recently, the Chancellor has made misleading claims on public debt figures through his Twitter account.

On 25 April Mr Hunt said that headline debt levels are reducing by £53.7 billion by 2027/28.

However, Table A.9 of the OBR Economic and fiscal outlook published in March 2023 forecasts that public debt will rise between now and 2027/28.

And between the last two years of the forecast, 2026/27 and 2027/28, the national debt will rise by £90bn.

When clarification was sought by media outlets, it was suggested that the £53.7 billion figure refers to the change in the OBR’s projection for headline debt in 2027/28 relative to the OBR’s projection in the November 2022 Autumn Statement for that year – so the figure represents the gap between the two projections. This is not an accurate reflection of debt levels being reduced over time as claimed.

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

I would welcome your view on the Government’s claim that headline debt levels are falling in cash terms.

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 – national debt

Response from Sir Robert Chote to Emily Thornberry MP – crime and police statistics

Dear Ms Thornberry,

Thank you for your letters regarding the use of statistics on crime and policing by Ministers. You asked about a statement the Prime Minister made on 22 March about crime. You also asked about an interview in which the Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire discussed police recruitment.

The Prime Minister said that

“since the Conservatives came into power, crime is down 50 per cent”

This statement is an accurate description of estimates of total incidents of crime against individuals as measured by the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW), excluding fraud and computer misuse. Figure 1 [1] from the latest ONS bulletin at that time shows this trend since 1981.

As you highlight in your letter, the UK Statistics Authority has in the past advised that fraud and computer misuse should be included in statements about overall crime wherever possible. However, the CSEW only started asking questions related to these offences in 2015. The Prime Minister therefore used the most appropriate data source for comparing trends in the total level of crime since 2010.

Nevertheless, it would support public understanding if Ministers using this comparison were explicit in stating the offences excluded, or instead used figures relating to specific types of offences. The CSEW records a wide variety of offences which vary greatly in their severity.

In your letter of 18 April you asked us to look at statements on police recruitment levels made by the Minister of State for Crime, Policing and Fire, Chris Philp MP, during an interview on Good Morning Britain.

The Minister said

“If you take 2010 as the starting point – 145,000, that was the previous peak, March 2010 – when the figures come out next week, you’ll see that they are higher than that 145,000.”

He also said,

“I’m not going to speculate precisely, but it will be some margin higher, we’re talking about some thousands higher [than March 2010].”

You suggested these statements might have been made using knowledge of the statistics ahead of their scheduled publication date on 26 April, contrary to the Code of Practice for Statistics. We spoke with Home Office statisticians and the Minister’s office and found no evidence of that. The latest published police officer uplift statistics at the time of the interview showed that in December 2022 there were 145,658 police officers in England and Wales, and that the net increase due to the Police Uplift Program (PUP) since October 2022 was 1,420. From this information, and other management information[2], it was reasonable to have inferred that the March 2010 figure could have been exceeded by several thousand.

Yours sincerely,

Sir Robert Chote



[1]  A graph shows the trend in total crime according to the CSEW. From March 2017, another line shows levels of crime newly including fraud and computer misuse

[2] As reported in the Office for Statistics Regulation’s July 2022 compliance assessment of the police uplift statistics, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), produces a monthly management information report and dashboard on the PUP for police forces and Ministers. Statisticians in the Home Office informed us that the last management information data the Minister had access to was from February 2023.


  • The CSEW provides the best estimate of long-term trends in crime. As a household survey of individual adults, it does not provide estimates for crimes against businesses (such as non-domestic burglary), societal crimes such as drug taking, or crimes against children.
  • There is a break in the CSEW time series because of the suspension of face-to-face interviewing between March 2020 and October 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Data for the year ending September 2022 are based on interviews conducted since the resumption of fieldwork in October 2021, measuring experiences of crime in the 12 months before the interview. This means crimes recorded in the most recent estimates could have occurred as far back as October 2020 and as recently as August 2022.


Related links

Letter from Emily Thornberry MP to Sir Robert Chote – crime statistics

Letter from Emily Thornberry MP to Sir Robert Chote – crime and police statistics