Some more figures for you: “We have got the deficit down by 25%” – really?

Here’s one worthy of BBC radio 4’s “More or Less”. According to the Coalition government they “reduced the deficit by 25%” – this mantra has been repeated over and over again by Ministers. But is it true? 

Below I reproduce the figures that the Office of National Statistics (ONS) uses in its official bulletins on the national finances – specifically column JW2T of PSF1 (Public Sector Summary Balances). These are the latest available figures on the website. (

The first set of figures are by calendar year. Even if you take the worst figure for Labour – 2010, when they were only in power until May – and 2011 for the Coalition, the reduction is 16%.

The second set of figures is by financial year (April-March). Again, if you take the worst year for Labour – this time 2009/10 when they were in power all year, and 11/12 for the Coalition, the reduction is 15%.

The third set of figures is by Quarter. The last Quarter Labour was in power was Q2 of 2010 (-34,660) – by Q2 of 2011 the deficit was down by 2.4%.

Perhaps they are using the fourth set of figures, by month? If we take the worst option again for Labour – May 2010 – and compare it to May 2012, the deficit is up by 12%. So not that then.

So what figures are the Government using to claim a 25% reduction in the deficit? Anybody? Please? Tell me they’re not just making it up?



£ million


Current Budget Surplus/Deficit






































 2009 Q2






 2010 Q1








 2011 Q1








 2012 Q1






 2010 Nov




 2011 Jan
























 2012 Jan























2 thoughts on “Some more figures for you: “We have got the deficit down by 25%” – really?

  1. I have no idea what is going on here but if Osborne, et al are being naughty with their use of statistics then the ONS would normally write a snotty letter to the offender (and publish it). Have they done this? And if they have not – which might be the case if they have missed this use of their statistics with all the other stuff going on – then perhaps an academic up North could contact them and ask for their views? I would rather not since I have “other fish to fry” with ONS (on police statistics, as it happens) .

  2. Stephanie Flanders(@BBCStephanie) says that the deficit reduction targets is based on the “cyclically adjusted” budget surplus/deficit and on this basis they have reduced it by 25%.

    This is a virtually meaningless figure because it depends on knowing what the economic cycle is. We never actually know what that is (was) until long aft the event. Gordon Brown was criticised for using this measure by those who are now using it themselves. Especially at the moment, when we have just had a double-dip recession, it is even more meaningless than usual. Guessing what the cycle is is pure speculation. This is why when the ONS reports budget surplus/deficits it uses actual numbers rather than those numbers “adjusted” by completely meaningless guesstimates.

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