Jobs, pollution, and academies: Prime Minister's Questions, factchecked

16 March 2016

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“Employment in our country at a new record high of 31.4m people. Compared with 2010, there are now 2,370,000 more people in work than when I became Prime Minister”—David Cameron

Latest figures show there were 31.4 million people in work towards the end of last year, a record level. The employment rate—which takes into account the growing size of the population—is also at roughly record levels.

Compared to the three months before the 2010 election, it’s correct that there are 2.37 million more people in work.

Air pollution

“500,000 [people] will die because of this country’s failure to comply with international law on air pollution”—Jeremy Corbyn

The government is in breach of EU rules on air pollution, and researchers say that pollution causes deaths. We’re not sure about half a million, though.

Mr Corbyn said earlier in the exchange that his figure was based on the UK not hitting EU air pollution targets until 2025.

The Supreme Court has said in cases brought by the charity ClientEarth that the UK isn’t meeting the targets—something the government admits—and last year ordered ministers to produce a new plan to hit them.

This plan now says that in most areas, the targets will be met by 2020, but in London not until 2025. ClientEarth has threatened to go back to court, saying among other things that the plan doesn’t keep non-compliance with the targets “as short as possible”, as the EU rules require.

The equivalent of 40,000 deaths occur every year because of outdoor air pollution, according to a report by the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. It could be up to 50,000, but 40,000 is the “best estimate”.

It seems a stretch to translate this into half a million deaths by 2025, as Mr Corbyn does.

For one thing, it assumes that hitting the targets would be enough in itself to prevent all the deaths attributed to air pollution. And the government’s plan is to meet them in most areas by 2020, so could argue that excess deaths in the meantime are more like 160,000 (40,000 a year for four years).

“The Royal College of Physicians estimates that air pollution costs our economy £20 billion per year.”—Jeremy Corbyn

“Of course it costs our economy billions”—David Cameron

The same report mentioned above cites the £20 billion cost, but it’s not originally a Royal College of Physicians calculation. It’s based on analysis from the government. The detail of how this is calculated isn’t clear.

Similar estimates date back to a 2007 government report which estimated the health impact of man-made air pollution in 2005 cost the UK between £9 and £20 billion every year. We’re trying to track down one of the authors to explain more about how this comes about.

Renewable energy

“On renewable electricity we’re on track to deliver our target of at least 30% from renewable sources by 2020 and almost all of that would have happened under a Conservative-led government.”—David Cameron

That’s right, but electricity is only one part of the UK’s overall target on renewable energy, which it’s not on track to meet.

Without further action, the EU target to get 15% of our energy from renewable sources by 2020 will be missed, according to a leaked letter from the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.

The UK has met interim targets, and it’s on track to hit the sub-target of getting 30% of electricity from renewable sources, as the Prime Minister says. Renewable electricity went from 7% to 18% of the total between 2010 and 2014.

But that’s only one element of the overall renewables target, which also factors in heat and transport energy. Progress on them has been slower.

Gun crime

“I think what we have seen in London actually is a reduction in gun crime”—David Cameron

Recorded gun crime in London fell between 2009 and 2013, and has since stayed at roughly the same levels. This is not a reliable measure of crime trends and may to some extent reflect the level of police activity focused on tackling crime. The other main source of information about crime—the Crime Survey for England and Wales—can’t provide local breakdowns.

‘Gun crime’ includes possession, as well as using guns while carrying out specific crimes such as robbery.

Typically, before 2010 there were over 200 recorded offences every month in London. There are now usually around 150. There have been slight recorded rises over the past year.


“If you look at the converter academy schools, 88% of them are rated good or outstanding”—David Cameron

That’s correct. 88% of ‘converter academies’ were judged good or outstanding at their latest inspection by Ofsted, as of August last year.

Schools are more likely to become converter academies if they're performing well according to their exam results or Ofsted grade so it's not surprising that these schools continue to be more likely to be judged outstanding compared to local authority schools.

An analysis by the National Foundation for Educational Research found generally little difference in performance at GCSE level between academies and similar local authority schools.

We’ll have more information on this in our joint briefing shortly.

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