Overall cost of pandemic support was around £370 billion

19 January 2024
What was claimed

The government provided £450 billion of funding that kept people in work and kept business afloat.

Our verdict

This figure is too high. It was intended to refer to an estimate for the total cost to the government in direct spending and delayed or cancelled taxes and duties. The total lifetime cost of support to businesses is estimated at about £140 billion, including the government’s furlough scheme.

What was claimed

There are about three and a half thousand Sure Start centres in England.

Our verdict

This figure also appears too high. There are currently 2,201 children’s centres listed on the government’s database.

During an appearance on BBC Question Time on 11 January, health minister Dame Andrea Leadsom MP claimed that as chancellor during the Covid-19 pandemic, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak “provided that £450 billion of funding that kept people in work, kept businesses afloat” [6:35].

This figure is considerably higher than the estimated overall cost of support provided by the government during the pandemic, let alone the cost of support for businesses. 

When we contacted Ms Leadsom about her claim, her office told us she’d intended to refer to a 2021 International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimate of £407 billion for the total cost to the UK government of direct spending and in taxes and duties foregone during the pandemic.

Actual government support for businesses and employees during the pandemic is estimated to be about £140 billion.

We also asked Ms Leadsom about a claim she made later in the programme [42:20] that there are “about three and a half thousand” Sure Start children’s centres in England—a figure which also appears too high based on the latest available information. Her office says her claim referred to the 3,050 Children’s Centres listed as open by the government in 2019, plus around 400 Family Hubs (local support hubs for families with children aged 0-19).

The first figure appears to be too high and out of date, because the number of open Children’s Centres in the latest data is 2,201.

If an MP makes an inaccurate claim on broadcast media they should take responsibility for ensuring it is appropriately corrected, and make efforts to ensure the correction is publicly available to anyone who might have heard the claim.

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Treasury estimates total lifetime cost of Covid-19 support to be around £370 billion

Ms Leadsom claimed that as chancellor Mr Sunak provided “£450 billion of funding” to help employees and businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic.

There are a number of estimates for the cost of support provided by the government during the Covid-19 pandemic. However none of these suggest the government spent as much as £450 billion overall, let alone solely on support for businesses and employees.

The Treasury currently estimates the total lifetime cost of support provided during the pandemic to be £373 billion, of which £358 billion has already been spent.

The lifetime cost of support to businesses, including the government’s furlough scheme, is estimated to be £140 billion, of which £134 billion has already been spent.

In March 2022 the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) estimated a slightly lower cost of £311 billion, of which £65 billion was spent on support for businesses (excluding the furlough scheme, which the OBR estimated cost £70 billion).

The IMF estimated as of September 2021 that during the pandemic the UK had spent a total of £407 billion in direct spending and in taxes and duties the government chose not to collect or to collect later. When we contacted Ms Leadsom to ask for the source of her claim, her office said it was this figure, which she had seen quoted in a House of Commons Library briefing.

More than 1,000 Sure Start centres have closed in the past decade

In response to a question about Sure Start children’s centres (which were established under the last Labour government), Ms Leadsom said “it’s not true that they’re all shut down, there’s about three and a half thousand of them in England”.

The number of children’s centres peaked at around 3,620 in 2010 and 2011, surpassing the Labour government’s target of 3,500 centres by 2010.

However, since then the number of open centres has fallen by more than 1,400. The Department for Education currently lists 2,201 open children’s centres in England.

Ms Leadsom’s office told Full Fact she was referring to a figure of 3,050 Children’s Centres published by the government in 2019, plus a further 400 Family Hubs. 

We’ve contacted the Department for Education to confirm the latter figure. However Ms Leadsom’s figure would still appear to be too high based on the latest list of open children’s centres (and it does appear that around 80 family hubs are also included in the government’s list of children’s centres).

Image courtesy of Richard Townshend

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After we published this fact check, we contacted Andrea Leadsom to request a correction regarding these claims.

We are waiting to hear back from Andrea Leadsom.

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