Britain’s statistics watchdog is considering an investigation into comments made by Theresa May following complaints that they misrepresented the extent of homelessness.
The UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) confirmed concerns had been raised after the Prime Minister claimed in Parliament that “statutory homelessness peaked under the Labour government and is down by over 50 per cent since then.”
Ms May made the claim as she clashed with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn at Prime Minister’s Questions earlier this week.
While statutory homelessness did peak under Labour in 2003, it fell significantly in the following seven years before they lost power and has subsequently risen under the Conservatives’ watch.
Some 10,100 families in England were accepted as homeless during between April and June 2010, when the coalition government was elected. At the time of Ms May’s comments this week the figure stood at 14,400.
Since then it has climbed to 15,290, up six per cent in the last year, according to the latest government statistics.
Those numbers also understate the true scale of homelessness because they refer only families who are unintentionally homeless and have been offered assistance by their council. People were who receive no help or are given assistance under other schemes are not taken into account.
Ms May’s comments were referred to the UKSA by Lib Dem peer Olly Grender, who last year raised concerns about the Government’s use of the same statistics.
She told The Independent: “It seems particularly worrying, as we learn today of the increase in homelessness, that this government is still using spin rather than understanding and solving the problem.”
Baroness Grender’s previous complaint prompted UKSA to rebuke the Department for Communities and Local Government. The department claimed homelessness had halved since 2003 but glossed over the fact this referred only to those who met the narrow definition of statutory homelessness, while the overall number of homeless people had not dropped.
In a letter responding to her concerns, Ed Humpherson, the authority’s director general, described the department’s use of figures as “disappointing” and said they were “potentially misleading” to the public. He added he would seek a commitment from department staff that they will give “greater clarity” on data usage in the future.
UKSA confirmed it had received a complaint about Ms May’s comments this week. A spokesman said: “A concern has been raised with the UK Statistics Authority, and we will respond in due course.”
John Healey, Labour’s shadow secretary for housing, said: “This is a shameful attempt by Theresa May to mislead the public and hide the Conservatives’ appalling record on homelessness.
“The facts are clear – homelessness fell at an unprecedented rate under Labour but has risen under the Conservatives. Only a Labour government will deal with the crisis of rapidly rising homelessness in towns and cities across the country.”
The Independent has approached Number 10 for a comment.