2012: the year in factchecks (readers' favourites)

20 December 2012
Season's greetings from Full Fact!   Here are our most-read factchecks from this year, one for every twelve days of Christmas. Happy reading!     1. How much does obesity cost the NHS?  Answer: £4.2 billion, rising to £6.4 billion by 2015.  These figures - which correspond to the NHS costs of 'elevated Body Mass Index' - are based upon looking not only at the direct cost of treating obesity in the NHS, but also include the costs of health conditions have that are attributable to obesity.   2. Which country gives the most in international aid?  Answer: The United States and Norway (as a percentage of Gross National Income or GNI).  The UK is the most generous G8 economy in international aid relative to GNI, but it does not - as was claimed - give the most aid of any country in the world, neither relative to GNI or in absolute terms.   3. Does a lack of first aid skills kill as many people as cancer?   Answer: We still don't know.  An advert from first aid charity St John Ambulance claimed that "First aid could help prevent up to 140,000 deaths every year. The same number of people that die from cancer." We got in touch with St John Ambulance to ask how they calculated this striking statistic. They informed us that their medical experts analysed the data for UK death registrations in 2010: for every single cause of death recorded in the mortality data, their medical experts made a judgement about whether or not first aid could've prevented a fatality. Until we receive a full breakdown from St John Ambulance, we can't assess how rigorous their comparison is. While their cause might be noble, it is nevertheless important that people can have faith in the numbers reported by St John Ambulance or any other charity. If the data isn't available to back up a claim, this isn't possible.   4. Is David Cameron 'writing a cheque' worth £40,000 for every UK millionaire?  Answer: Wrong, but...  Ed Miliband is wrong to say that "each and every millionaire in Britain" will be £40,000 better off when the 50p top rate of income tax is cut in April. However if you take him to mean 'income millionaires' — the much smaller group who earn more than £1 million every year — rather than millionaires in the normal sense of the word, he does have a point. Taking income tax in isolation doesn't necessarily give us the full picture. If we look at wider changes to wealth taxes rather than income tax alone, the evidence suggests that richer individuals will end up paying more money to the Treasury in spite of the reduction to the additional rate.   5. Will 90,000 disabled people lose Motability vehicles via PIP?  Answer: Yes, but.. Official estimates indicate that, by 2015/16, there will be 280,000 fewer people receiving the "upper mobility component", due to the different assessment criteria for Personal Independence Payments (PIP). The charity Motability serves 600,000 customers out of around 1.8 million currently in receipt of the higher component of Disability Living Allowance. If this rate of usage were applied to the expected loss of claimants under PIP, there would indeed be a loss of 90,000 Motability vehicles. What we don't know, however, is whether this rate would indeed apply to the 280,000 fewer claimants. It's possible they would be precisely the people who don't tend to claim motability anyway, and so we might not expect this many vehicles to be lost.   6. How many families are claiming £100,000 per year in housing benefit?  Answer: Around five.  The evidence suggests that there are a small number of Housing Benefit claims of more than £100,000 per year - perhaps around five. These cases are very much the exception rather than the rule. By focusing exclusively on these outliers without first putting them into context (namely, that over 80% of Housing Benefit claims are below £100 per week) there's a risk that the debate around this important topic is distorted.   7. What are the leading causes of death in the UK?  Answer: Heart disease and smoking.  Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that there are marked differences between the leading causes of death for men and women, although heart disease is still the biggest killer in the UK, and the world as a whole. Smoking, which is one of the contributory factors of lung and heart diseases, is responsible for one in ten deaths worldwide according to the World Health Organisation.   Does the taxpayer subsidise the rail network more now than it did when it was nationalised?  Answer: Yes.  The level of taxpayer subsidy to the rail network currently stands at several times the real terms equivalent before privatisation. In the years leading up to the privatisation of the railways - which began in earnest in 1994 - British Rail was supported by government money to the tune of between £988 million and £1.6 billion. This averages out at £1.1 billion. The latest figures from the Office for Rail Regulation show that government subsidies to the rail industry totalled £3.9 billion in 2011/12, or 35% of total industry revenue.    9. Are 120,000 'problem' families costing the taxpayer £9bn?  Answer: No. In reporting on the supposed 120,000 'problem' families, both the media and Government ministers seem to have fundamentally misunderstood what the number tells us. Rather than this being an identifiable group "in trouble or causing trouble", this figure refers to the number of families identified as having a number of social or economic difficulties or disadvantages. Full Fact also raised questions about the £9 billion figure.    10. Who was right in a PMQs clash on rail fare increases? Answer: David Cameron.  Prime Minister David Cameron and Opposition Leader Ed Miliband each blamed the other for train fare rises of "up to 11 per cent" in the new year. Full Fact found that while it is true that the Labour Government did make changes to the way in which train fare rises are calculated, particularly with regard to the "flex policy", it does seem that Ed Miliband is being selective with the truth when he says that his government had "reversed" it, as there is little to suggest that the move was permanent.   11. Is the UK's welfare system the most generous in Europe?  Answer: It depends! The relative 'generosity' of the UK's benefits system in comparison to other European countries can be measured in a number of different ways, and the outcome will vary depending upon which metric and dataset is chosen. With this in mind the UK can rank anywhere from top to below average in a European league table of benefits expenditure.     12. What effect has decriminalising drugs had in Portugal? Answer: This is a fairly complex issue.  This factcheck orginated from a BBC Question Time debate between Richard Branson and Melanie Phillips. However, this was not necessarily a disagreement over the facts so much as a disagreement over which facts matter when it comes to interpreting the effects of decriminalisation.   Twitter favourites
We asked our Twitter followers to vote on their favourite factchecks. Here are the winners:   Did Labour oversee the biggest gap between rich and poor "in modern times"? Answer: Yes. If we look at data made available by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (dating from 1961 - when their records began), we can see that New Labour's third term saw a sharp rise in income inequality - in 2009 it was at the highest level since record began - as well as a fall in the income of the poorest fifth of the population.     Do half of convicted paedophiles avoid jail? Answer: Yes, more or less.  The Sun claimed half of all people who are convicted of paedophilic offences are not jailed. We found that 695 out of 1,199 people convicted of paedophilic offences were sentenced to immediate custody. This leaves only around 42 per cent who were not jailed. However, the Sun's calculations suggest a narrower definition of paedophilia might have been applied her - excluding 'Abuse of trust' and 'Gross indecency with children'. If we include these charges we're left with almost exactly the same proportion - just over two in five - cases of sexual offences not resulting in custody.    Thanks for reading our work, and see you in 2013!   ---   Flickr image courtesy of hellojenuine

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