Sunak used incorrect numbers of asylum applications in Parliament, according to statistics czar

The prime minister used incorrect figures when citing action by the Home Office to address the backlog of asylum claims, according to the statistics watchdog.

Sir Robert Chote, chairman of the UK Statistics Authority, has written to the government pointing out that the figures used by ministers, including Rishi Sunak, “do not reflect” official statistics.

He also suggested it was wrong to claim that Conservative administrations had managed to halve the number waiting for their asylum application to be processed when the backlog increased by almost 150,000 since Labor was in Downing Street.

The official has warned ministers about “expectations” placed on them when using official data during public debates.

Rishi Sunak told the House of Commons that the backlog is “half the size it was when the Labor Party was in office” during a debate on migration on December 13.

He made the comments when responding to Alison McGovern, a Labor MP who had argued that the backlog was “now 14 times longer” than when her party left office.

Sunak, after issuing his response on Tory-led administrations allegedly slashing the number of applicants waiting, told the rival politician that she needed to “get the numbers right”.

The same claim was used in the House of Commons by Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick and Safeguards Minister Sarah Dines.

However, the statistics czar, Sir Robert, concluded after an investigation that between 2010 and 2022 “there was a net increase in undecided asylum claims of 147,307, not a halving”.

Sir Robert, in a letter to shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock, posted on the authority’s website, said: “The statements by ministers you inquired about do not reflect the position shown by Home Office statistics. .

“I have engaged with your offices to bring this to your attention and to share the UK Statistics Authority’s expectations for the use of official statistics and data in public debate.”

Roberto Chote
Sir Robert Chote has written to ministers about their use of official data (Tim Ireland/PA)

He said the backlog was about 19,000 before Labor was ousted in the 2010 election, well below the figures reported by Sunak’s Tory government late last year.

“The most appropriate source of statistics on asylum applications awaiting a decision are those produced by the Home Office and reported quarterly,” the economist said.

“These tell us that the number of applications awaiting a decision was 18,954 in June 2010.

“This is the first information published and it closely coincides with the 2010 general elections.

“The same spreadsheet also provides the latest number of undecided asylum claims, which was 166,261 at the end of December 2022.

“This means that over the period from June 2010 to December 2022 there has been a net increase in undecided asylum claims of 147,307, not a halving.”

The letter, published on Thursday, came after Kinnock wrote to Sir Robert on December 19 accusing ministers of “giving an inaccurate and totally misleading picture of reality”.

Stephen Kinnock
Shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock accused ministers of spreading ‘lies’ about Labour’s asylum record (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Kinnock of the Labor Party, responding to the publication of Sir Robert’s response, said: “The Tories are making so many false and misleading claims about Labor’s record in office because they want to divert attention from their own failures.

“The UK statistics watchdog has now confirmed that for every person who was waiting for an asylum application in 2010, eight people are waiting today, with a staggering 166,000 currently awaiting decisions.

“His evidence completely discredits the lies of conservatives.”

Mr Kinnock had arrested Ms Dines on her summons during a debate on 14 December that “the Labor government had left over half a million cases inherited”.

She said the numbers were obtained from a 2011 Internal Affairs Committee report.

The report was based on evidence from the then chief executive of the UK Border Agency on 500,500 cases under review.

Sir Robert said the main order book figure contained 56% duplications and other errors.

He told Mr Kinnock: “Given the data quality issues at the time, it would be unreasonable to suggest that this UK Border Agency management information accurately represented half a million undecided genuine asylum claims that were late”.

The Home Office has been contacted for comment.


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