DCLG rapped by stats watchdog over "disappointing" presentation of homelessness figures

 Statements and press releases gave misleading picture of reduction in homelessness, the UK Statistics Authority finds, because press and policy teams failed to consult with statisticians before publication

By Suzannah Brecknell

23 Feb 2017

The Department for Communities and Local Government published a series of documents which gave a misleading impression about homelessness trends, according to the UK Statistics Authority.

In response to a complaint raised by Lib Dem peer Baroness Grender, the UKSA’s director general of regulation Ed Humpherson found that a press briefing issued by the department in December 2016 failed to give proper context for homelessness statistics because the press team had not consulted statisticians before publishing.

The briefing said homelessness had more than halved since 2003, referring to a fall in statutory homelessness, but it did not include a definition of what this means. 

Why better statistics make for better decisions
DfE gives social media staff "refresher training" after grammar schools tweet row

Statutory homelessness excludes, for example, rough sleepers, single homeless people, and people who do not have a "local connection" with the area in which they have applied for assistance.

Humpherson concluded that without this context, the briefing “implies that homelessness has more than halved since 2003 on a much broader basis than is shown by the statutory series".

Several other publications were issued in late 2016 which did not include the statutory definition of homelessness, omissions which Humpherson described as “disappointing, given the emphasis the UK Statistics Authority has placed on DCLG providing a comprehensive picture of homelessness".

In a letter published on the UKSA site, Humpherson said the omissions had come about because press officials failed to get clearance for the publications from the department’s statistical team. 
In one instance, clearance was sought but the lead statistician failed to ensure the proper definition was included.

Humpherson wrote that his team will now monitor future DCLG communications on homelessness. 

He said: “The head of profession for statistics at DCLG told me that the lead statistician has now reiterated the importance of the correct drafting of lines about homelessness to all DCLG policy and press officials and has received their assurances that they will be vigilant to this. I have asked my regulatory team to monitor this.”

Baronness Grender had also complained about a statement made by housing and planning minister Gavin Barwell in the House of Commons on 14 December last year. 

However, Humpherson felt that Barwell – who said homelessness was “lower now than in its 2003-4 peak” – had made a “reasonably clear” presentation of the trends in homelessness.

The UKSA has previously found that DCLG’s homelessness statistics could be potentially misleading unless presented in the context of increased spending on prevention and relief activities by local councils. 

The department told the stats authority that it was working on a long-term solution to ensure its statistical releases have a clear context and show the limitations of current statistics. 

In the meantime, the department has begun publishes details of relief and prevention work in its quarterly bulletin on homelessness statistics, but Humpherson said he would like to see them do more.

“Beyond this, I will also be seeking a commitment from DCLG’s head of profession for statistics that future press notices referring to the declining statutory trend will also refer to the growth in prevention and relief activity presented in the same statistical bulletin,” he wrote . 

“I hope that these actions taken together will provide greater clarity ahead of DCLG’s longer-term statistical developments coming to fruition.”

Share this page