The smoke and mirrors are getting annoying

Saying that politicians sometimes manipulate statistics is like saying that footballers sometimes fancy their teammates’ girlfriends. Not only is it an understatement, but it’s also one of those things that everyone assumes to be their modus operandi. And it only makes the headlines when a particularly audacious episode takes place. 
But the latest trend in abusing the numbers is bothering me more than usual. Both Francis Maude and Nat Wei have said this week that 75 per cent of charities receive no government funding. In both cases, the figure was used as evidence that the big society can function despite public spending cuts.
I’m sure it’s true that three quarters of the 180,000 charities registered with the Charity Commission get no cash from the state. But how many of those are defunct, barely operational or tiny in scale?
A more accurate statistic would be that, according to the NCVO’s Civil Society Almanac, around 36 per cent of the sector’s overall income comes from the public purse. And, funnily enough, this figure wouldn’t prevent Maude and Wei from making their point quite effectively.
Of course, there are other statistics for charities to be annoyed about. Nick Hurd’s repeated claim that the government is pumping £470m into the voluntary sector, when in fact this is just a reduced version of the usual Office for Civil Society budget, grates somewhat.
So does David Cameron’s insistence that the £100m Transition Fund proves the government is supporting the sector – with the notable absence of any recognition that charities and voluntary groups will pay around £150m more in VAT this year than last year, and receive around £100m less in Gift Aid because of the end of transitional relief.
But somehow, the 75 per cent figure is the most annoying part of the smoke and mirrors – a phrase Nick Hurd used to use a lot when castigating the Labour government. It’s a blatant insult to the intelligence of the sector and the public.