Are debt levels falling or just forecast to rise less steeply?

Jermy Hunt slammed for using statistics, and confusing words, to imply debt is falling when it isn’t.

Worrying trait in a Chancellor, but he is a Conservative. – Owl

The official statistics watchdog has reprimanded the chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, after he claimed public debt levels would fall in the coming years, when in fact they are simply forecast to rise less steeply than previously expected.

Peter Walker 

The head of the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA), Sir Robert Chote, said the watchdog’s regulatory arm had spoken to Treasury officials to warn them about accuracy after a complaint by the Labour MP Dame Angela Eagle over a tweet the chancellor sent on 25 April.

Saying the government had “made progress” on the public finances, Hunt wrote: “By 2027-28, headline debt levels are reduced by £53.7 billion.”

Eagle, a former Treasury minister who sits on the Treasury committee, wrote to Chote, noting that the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts indicate that public debt will rise between now and 2027-28, including a £90bn increase from 2026-27 alone.

She said Hunt appeared to be referring to a fall in the OBR’s current projection for headline debt in 2027-28 compared with the same forecast in last year’s autumn statement. Eagle wrote: “I am concerned that government ministers are using misleading statistics publicly regarding the economy, and believe it is critical that figures used are accurate.”

In a reply, Chote said Treasury officials had confirmed this was what the tweet referred to: a reduction in the size of the forecast increase of debt, not a fall in the debt itself.

“As you suggest, some readers of the tweet may have assumed that the chancellor was referring to the forecast change in public sector net debt between the last full financial year and 2027-28,” he wrote.

“Greater clarity and context would have avoided this confusion. The Office for Statistics Regulation [the regulatory arm of the UKSA] has therefore spoken with officials at HM Treasury to emphasise the importance of consistently adopting a transparent and accessible approach to communicating statistics and data in line with our guidance on intelligent transparency.”

Eagle told the Guardian: “As the statistics authority has confirmed, this government has a persistently troubled relationship with the truth – one that is becoming increasingly obvious if you read the fine print.

“It is incredibly disappointing to see the chancellor resorting to using such misleading statistics in a tweet of all places – a new low for the fourth chancellor in a year.”

The Treasury confirmed Hunt’s tweet had referred to the changing forecast for the debt increase, and that it had noted Chote’s points and would take any necessary action.

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