Only one person in ten believes in Government statistics

Only one person in ten believes in Government statistics, a survey found yesterday.

The great majority of the population thinks either that the figures are either wrong or bent by politicians.

The findings suggest that trust in Whitehall figures is far lower than those who produce them imagine.

Only two years ago the Office for National Statistics claimed from its own checks that more than a third of people think its picture of the state of the country is accurate.


Whitehall: Only one in ten people believe in Government statistics

The new survey follows a year of increasingly tense relations between ministers and the ONS since the statistics organisation was given independence from the Treasury.

In recent months there have been clashes between statisticians and the Government over the way the population and immigration are counted, the figures that measure the depth of the recession, and the scale of the pay 'gender gap'.

It also comes at a time when the expenses scandal and a flagging Government have contributed to historically low levels of public esteem for politicians.

The Harris Interactive poll for the Financial Times said that 10 per cent of adults believe official figures are accurate. The same number again believe the figures are produced without interference from politicians.

Around six per cent of people think that official figures are honestly used by the Government, the survey said.

But seven out of ten believe the statistics are maniulated for political purposes and even more think they have been spun either by politicians or the news media that report them.

Half said the figures that are published do not match their own experience of what is happening.

The level of trust is around half that found in France and Germany and a third of confidence in official figures in the United States, the polling company found.

Two years ago the ONS conducted its own survey of public confidence which said that 36 per cent of people think state figures are accurate. It also said that one in five thought the statistics were published free from political interference.

A spokesman for the ONS declined to comment on the FT survey yesterday.

But earlier this month Sir Michael Scholar, head of the UK Statistics Authority which now acts as watchdog over the ONS, spoke of a 'difficult moment' over immigration figures.

He called for greater restrictions on the way ministers can see reports before they are published so 'the public could be assured that politicians and their advisers have no opportunity to interfere with statistical publications in advance of their release, or otherwise seek to gain political advantage from early sight of statistical releases.'

Home Secretary Alan Johnson said before Christmas that the country was being terrorised by the prospect of a population of 70 million by 2029.

The ONS strongly restated the figure in its projections of future population this autumn and made clear that immigration is almost entirely responsible for increasing population.

Mr Johnson said: 'I don't know whether that is the sensible debate or just people being terrorised by some spectre.'

Women and Equality Minister Harriet Harman has refused to follow instructions from the ONS to use three separate figures to describe the differences between men's and women's pay.

She has continued to use a single figure which the ONS regards as misleading.

The ONS has also upset ministers by publishing figures showing declining productivity among public sector workers.