At PMQs today, Ed Miliband questioned David Cameron on the NHS. In response to a wuestion on the 18 week target, Cameron claimed the number waiting 18 weeks had fallen since the election. Labour disagreed, saying the number had risen. Labour seem to be correct and Cameron wrong.
It’s not the first time the Tories have been caught out using dodgy stats (although Labour aren’t immune either). Here are some other instances courtesy of a comment I saw on the Guardian website:
1. Grant Shapps claims that “nearly a million people” (878,300) on incapacity benefit had dropped their claims, rather than face a new medical assessment for its successor, the employment and support allowance.
From this list we can conclude two things:
1. Sub-editors like using the word “rebuked”
2. Cameron’s error today was not an isolated incident
Now all parties spin stats in a way they think best suits their argument, so what’s the problem you might think? Well, if we are going to argue over whether a particular policy is working or not, it is essential to agree on some basic facts. If we can’t even do that, a proper evaluation of the policy is impossible. It also leads to a general mistrust of statistics to the extent that no figures (regardless or the source) are believed, whether they be on unemployment, crime or immigration.