Factcheck: Simply wrong? Poor poverty figures at PMQs

Published: 30 Jan 2015

"Absolute poverty up by 300,000"—Louise Ellman, Labour MP

"I am afraid that the honorable Lady's statistics are simply wrong ... the fact is that there are 600,000 fewer people in relative poverty than there were at the election."—David Cameron

In this exchange from Prime Minister's Questions, Ms. Ellman appears to have mislabeled her figure—and the Prime Minister has replied using a different measure altogether.

Absolute child poverty is up by 300,000

Ms. Ellman's office told us that the figure for absolute poverty she used at PMQs came from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission's "State of the Nation 2014" report.

It says on page 25 that "Absolute poverty increased by 300,000 between 2010-11 and 2012-13". However, this figure is the increase in the number of children in absolute poverty before housing costs are deducted from income, and elsewhere in the report it is described as such.

The total number of people in absolute poverty before housing costs is actually up 800,000 since 2010/11.

The Prime Minister's reply

So where has the Prime Minister got a fall of 600,000 from?

The short answer is that he's referring to a different figure over a different time period.

Ms. Ellman asked about absolute poverty, but Mr. Cameron replied with a relative poverty figure. While the first looks at households earning an income lower than a fixed figure, the latter looks at households earning less than a proportion of the current median income.

And while Ms. Ellman was referring to the period 2010/11 to 2012/13, Mr. Cameron's figures are measured from 2009/10 to 2012/13.

From 2009/10 to 2012/13, the number of people in relative poverty before housing costs fell by 700,000 according to publicly available data.

The Department for Work and Pensions has confirmed that they don't publish any figures that aren't rounded to the nearest 100,000, and that when the effects of rounding are removed the fall in poverty is indeed 600,000.

From 2010/11 (the period Ms. Ellman was measuring over), the number of people in relative poverty before housing costs is down 100,000.

Update 30/01/2015

It has been brought to our attention that the Prime Minister has previously criticised the use of relative low income to measure poverty.


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