Politicians and statistics: our examples on the BBC Today Programme

14 August 2013

Full Fact's Director Will Moy appeared on the Today Programme this morning just before Sir Andrew Dilnot of the UK Statistics Authority, both talking about how politicians use statistics.

If you're looking for reliable information or trying to check a claim you've hear, check our new tool Full Fact Finder, where you can find what you need in seconds. If you want to find out more about the work of the UK Statistics Authority, you can read the letters it has sent when intervening in various disputes.

Here are links to our coverage of the three examples the Today Programme asked us to comment on. Each article links to the sources that we used —

Jeremy Hunt: we've heard health tourism costs £200m

Wish you were here? The cost of health tourism to the NHS

How much does the NHS lose from foreign 'health tourists'?

Jeremy Hunt told the BBC's World At One that he "didn't want to speculate" on how much health tourism cost the NHS, before speculating that it cost £200 million, ten times his own department's estimate of £20 million. The £200 million harks back to a decade-old report which offered a range from £50-200 million.

We submitted an FoI to the Department for Health for more up-to-date official estimates. After initially refusing to publish this information, we know now the government's current best estimate is £35 million. However you view this as a matter of principle, in purely practical terms this is a tiny proportion of the NHS budget of £104 billion.

Ed Miliband: "only crisis-hit Spain has higher numbers of young unemployed than the UK"

Statistics watchdog queries Miliband unemployment claims

The Labour leader told The Sun that "only crisis-hit Spain has higher numbers of young unemployed than the UK". While technically true, this is mainly because the UK has a larger population than most European countries, so is always likely to feature near the top of unemployment (or indeed employment) tables if we look only at the raw numbers.

If we want to know how the UK performs in relation to other countries, we need to look at the youth unemployment rate (the proportion of the economically active that are out of work), and if we do that, the UK is actually one of the better performing EU nations and far away from Spain. This is why Sir Andrew Dilnot wrote to Ed Miliband to warn him that the claim could misinform people.

Nick Clegg: 3 million British jobs depend on the EU

3 million jobs lost over 'Brexit'? Concern over recycled claim

With recent talk of a 'Brexit', Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander have both claimed that 3 million British jobs "rely directly" on EU membership. The 3 million figure actually refers to the number of jobs linked directly and indirectly to firms that export to the EU (including, for example, those providing logistics, legal or financial services to exporters).  It doesn't tell us about how many jobs — if any — would be lost if Britain exited the EU.

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