Keir Starmer’s GMB interview: fact checked

4 May 2022
What was claimed

The economy isn’t growing.

Our verdict

UK GDP is increasing on a monthly, quarterly and annual basis.

What was claimed

The government hasn’t gone after £11.8 billion lost to fraud and undelivered contracts during the pandemic.

Our verdict

Labour hasn’t clarified how this figure was calculated. It might include some money that has already been reclaimed, or is expected to be and may not be comprehensive.

Yesterday we fact checked Boris Johnson’s interview on Good Morning Britain ahead of the local elections. Today it was Labour leader Keir Starmer’s turn to face presenters Susanna Reid and Richard Madeley.  

Here are two of his comments that could use some more context. 

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“The problem we've got is, the economy isn't growing”

During the interview Mr Starmer claimed that “the economy isn’t growing” before saying the UK is a “low-growth high-tax economy”.

The UK economy is growing, albeit relatively slowly.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which releases monthly estimates of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the economy grew by 0.1% in February in real terms and is now 1.5% above its pre-coronavirus level (as measured in February 2020).

The economy is also growing on a quarterly and annual basis, in the most recent figures.  

“During the pandemic the fraud and the contracts that didn't deliver amounted to £11.8 billion […] For the life of me, I don't understand why the government won't go hard on this fraud”

Mr Starmer also mentioned that the money lost to fraud and contracts which didn’t deliver during the pandemic amounted to £11.8 billion. Ms Reid said that the government said it would try to “go after” that money. In reply, Mr Starmer claimed that the government hasn’t done so, despite the National Crime Agency wanting to.

We’ve asked Labour to explain exactly what the £11.8 billion figure refers to, but it had not replied, at the time of publication. We’re also not sure whether Mr Starmer was saying that the government had made no effort to recover the money—or only that it hadn’t made enough effort, in his opinion.

Labour has previously used the figure of £11.8 billion to talk about the amount lost to fraud and error from five of the government’s business support schemes during the pandemic.  During his interview this morning, Mr Starmer used the same figure in relation to fraud “and the contracts that didn’t deliver” so while he may have been referring to the same measure, we can’t be certain.

Labour’s earlier figure came from analysis conducted by the House of Commons library, an impartial research service within Parliament, which told us it could not share the results of this confidential research.

However, it appears that the figure combines the government’s current central estimates for the amount lost to fraud and error through the Bounce Back Loans (£4.9 billion), business support grants (£1 billion), furlough scheme (£5.3 billion), Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (£0.5 billion) and Eat Out to Help Out Scheme (£0.1 billion). Adding these together does come to a total of about £11.8 billion.

If this was the method used to calculate Labour’s figure, then the £11.8 billion appears not to take into account the amount the government expects to recoup from these losses.

For example, HMRC said in January that it had already recovered £0.5 billion, and estimated that it would be able to recover a further £0.8 billion to £1 billion between 2021 and 2023, from the furlough scheme, Self-Employment Income Support Scheme and Eat Out to Help Out Scheme.

It also doesn’t include an estimate for money lost due to fraud and error via the Department for Work and Pensions and Universal Credit.

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