BBC Question Time: factchecked

15th Dec 2017

This week’s Question Time was in Barnsley. On the panel were Conservative MP and former Secretary of State for Education Nicky Morgan, Labour's Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey MP, Labour peer and scientist Professor Robert Winston, comedian Geoff Norcott and journalist Isabel Oakeshott.

What help is available for homeless people sleeping outside in cold weather?

“I understand there is a policy [...] where it has to be more than zero degrees centigrade for three days before the Government open up extra housing. Is that accurate?”

Geoff Norcott 14 December 2017

“I think there is a scheme around that, yep. [...] There are also cold weather payments.”

Nicky Morgan, 14 December 2017

The charity Homeless Link, which produces guidance for local councils on helping rough sleepers during severe weather, says there are currently no legal protections for people sleeping rough in England during these conditions.

Local authorities in England have the option to adopt this guidance, which is called the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP). At least 100 councils do so.

In Scotland, the Scottish government have their own plan for tackling winter rough sleeping. We haven’t found specific severe winter weather homelessness plans for Wales and Northern Ireland.  

The SWEP plan in England has historically been triggered when the temperature is forecast to be at or below zero degrees celsius from three days.

However, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. Both Homeless Link, and some local authorities themselves, say that a common sense approach is taken. The occasional night above zero degrees doesn’t automatically mean that the winter provision will be withdrawn.

A key part of the SWEP is for local authorities to provide winter housing for rough sleepers. A total of 2,793 people used winter housing services across the 118 local authorities that responded to Homeless Link’s 2016/17 survey.

The government does provide a Cold Weather Payment as well for people on certain benefits.

These payments kick in if the temperature in your area is recorded to be, or forecast to be, zero degrees celsius or below for 7 consecutive days. If eligible, you can get £25 for each 7 day period of very cold weather between 1 November and 31 March. 

Can MPs breastfeed in the House of Commons?

“There’s still a problem with breastfeeding in public, including, I believe, in the House of Commons. I believe that women aren’t allowed to feed babies in the House of Commons. I may be wrong, but if that's the case, that's ridiculous.”

BBC Question Time audience member, 14 December 2017

“That's not true... I don't know about the chamber, I have to say, because I haven’t actually seen anybody doing it in my seven years that I’ve been there. But obviously in the building and everything else but I think it probably has been done and I hope it wouldn't be a problem if it were to be done.”

Nicky Morgan MP, 14 December 2017

In 2000, the then-Speaker of the House of Commons ruled that breastfeeding wasn’t allowed in the main Chamber of the House of Commons, as well as in committee meetings. The House of Commons has told us that it still observes this ruling.

It also told us anyone may breastfeed anywhere else in the building, and that there are breastfeeding and baby changing facilities available for Members.

Rules on breastfeeding were clarified in 2000

In 2000, the rules on breastfeeding in the House of Commons Chamber were set out after Julia Drown MP asked for clarification about whether she could breastfeed during a committee meeting.

A letter issued on behalf of the then-Speaker, Betty Boothroyd, said breastfeeding was not allowed in the Chamber or committee rooms due to existing rules prohibiting “bringing refreshment into the [committee] room and the presence of persons other than members of the committee and specified officers”.

The Speaker later added that “I do not believe that the feeding of babies in either the Chamber or Committee is conducive to the efficient conduct of public business. Nor do I think that the necessary calm environment in which to feed babies can be provided in such circumstances.” She also noted that there were three lady members’ lounges, a families room and MPs own offices where breastfeeding was allowed.

The House of Commons told us it still observes the Speaker’s ruling that the children of MPs are not allowed to be brought into the chamber. However, they emphasised that, outside of this, anyone may breastfeed anywhere in the building, and will be helped to find a room if they wish to do so in privacy.

This rule has been challenged

In November 2001, a committee of MPs recommended “that the House should give a lead to the country in promoting breastfeeding by allowing mothers to feed their babies wherever it is appropriate to them in the Palace of Westminster and associated buildings.”

After undertaking consultations, in March 2002 the then-Speaker Michael Martin “decided to make no change to the current regulations under which breast-feeding is not permitted in the Chamber, in Committees or in the public galleries.”

Helene Hayman was reportedly the first MP to breastfeed in parliament in 1976, although this seems to have been outside of the Chamber. Harriet Harman also breastfed her daughter in the Commons in 1982, and took her into the division lobby (which is not the Chamber) to vote. So neither of these seemed to have happened in the Chamber itself.

A 2016 report has called for changes

In 2016, Professor Sarah Childs launched the Good Parliament Report, at the request of the Speaker, John Bercow.

One of the report’s recommendations was to allow children into the Chamber and committees. It says that “This move would enable all Members to fully participate in House business. Members may well sit in the Chamber and in committees for a number of hours either listening to a debate or waiting to speak. In addition to allowing Members to carry out their representative functions, permitting entry to infants would have symbolic benefits – showcasing the Commons as a role-model parent-friendly institution.”

The report doesn’t formally recommend that breastfeeding in the Chamber and committees should be allowed, but it does recommend that children be allowed into these areas and that “According to a senior Commons clerk the issue of infant feeding is really a question of whether to permit babies into the Chamber and committees.” Professor Sarah Childs also told us that infant feeding in the Chamber was something included in the report for consideration as part of a wider review of parliamentary rules.

The report also recommends that “The provision of proper facilities for infant feeding near the Chamber and across the Parliamentary Estate should also be made”.

The current Speaker set up a committee of MPs to review the report and its recommendations. In March 2017, the group endorsed “allowing children up to the age of five in the Division Lobbies and into and through the Chamber whilst a vote was underway.” The House of Commons told us that no final decision had been taken on this issue.

How much is spent on health and social care in the NHS?

“We have got the vast majority of our Hospital Trusts on the edge a cliff. I think it’s 61% of acute hospitals are in deficit at the moment. We have had cuts to the likes of which we have never seen before to our NHS budgets. £6.3 billion from social care, £600 million from mental health.”

Rebecca Long Bailey MP, 14 December 2017

It’s correct that 61% of acute hospital trusts were in deficit by the end of 2016/17. So far this year the figure is 83%.

Spending by councils on adult social care in England has fallen by around £1.3 billion since 2010, according to experts. Councils have reported that they have made, or plan to make, savings of £6.3 billion on adult social care services since 2010.

We’re planning to publish a more detailed factcheck of mental health spending soon, so for now we haven’t covered the last part of Ms Long Bailey’s claim.

How many hospital trusts are in deficit?

It’s correct that 61% of acute hospital trusts were in deficit by the end of 2016/17. Acute trusts make up the bulk of NHS providers in England and offer a wide range of services. Other types of trust include ambulance, community, mental health and specialist trusts.

Those other types of trust are less likely to be in deficit. That means across all types of trust, 44% were in the red that year.

Looking at the most recent figures, 83% of acute hospital trusts were in deficit by the end of September 2017, and 65% of all trusts were.

Between 2015/16 and 2020/21 spending on NHS England is set to increase by £8.7 billion (in 2017/18 prices), though overall health spending is set to increase by about half as much. Because of an increasing population though, spending on the NHS per person is set to fall in the coming years.

NHS England has been asked to make £22 billion of savings between 2016 and 2021 in order to keep up with rising demand and an ageing population.

We’ve looked more at spending on the NHS and other health services here.

Have social care budgets fallen by £6.3 billion?

Spending on adult social care by councils in England has fallen by around £1.3 billion in real terms since 2010, according to health think tanks. It went from £19.1 billion in 2009/10 to £17.8 billion in 2016/17—a fall of 7%.

Following calls for more money to be put into adult social care earlier this year, the government promised an extra £2 billion for adult social care over the next three years. We’ve looked at this in more detail here. But health think tanks still estimate that there will be a funding gap of £2.5 billion by 2019/20.

Ms Long Bailey seems to have been referring to findings from a survey done by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) when she said social care budgets had been cut by £6.3 billion. We’ve asked her office for more information.

ADASS, which is made up of leaders of council social care services, found that councils across England plan to have made savings of £6.3 billion since 2010 (by the end of 2017/18) on adult social care. We’ve asked ADASS if this figure accounts for inflation and for more details about the survey.

In 2017/18 councils expected these planned savings would come mainly from efficiency savings, and things like reducing services, increasing charges above the level of inflation and increasing pay by less than inflation. But only 31% of councils responding to the survey were fully confident they would be able to make planned savings this year.

The survey was conducted before some councils knew the full details of the money towards adult social care that they would receive from the NHS and increasing council tax. It’s possible that this money may affect the level of savings councils plan on making.