Viral post about Conservatives’ record in government gets lots of things wrong

Published: 16th Oct 2019

In brief

Claim

After nine years of a Conservative government, child poverty is up 50%.

Conclusion

Incorrect. There’s no single measure of child poverty, but depending on which you use it has risen by up to 5% or fallen by up to 3% between 2009/10 and 2017/18, under coalition and Conservative governments.

 

After nine years of a Conservative government, food bank use is up 1,000%.

 

The increase is over 1000%, looking at the number of three-day food packages handed out by the Trussell Trust, which runs a network of food banks in the UK. This does not cover all food banks in the UK though. The period covers coalition and Conservative governments.

 

After nine years of a Conservative government, homelessness is up 170%.

 

The estimated number of rough sleepers is up 165% in England between 2010 and 2018, under coalition and Conservative governments. But this data is known to undercount rough sleeping so those figures are not definitive. Also many people who aren’t sleeping rough are also defined as homeless. The number of households that were homeless for any reason increased by 41% between 2009/10 and 2017/18 in England.

 

After nine years of a Conservative government, the NHS waiting list has increased by 70%.

 

In May 2019 there were 4.4 million referrals for treatment on the NHS in England, where the treatment had not yet begun. That’s an increase of 70% compared to May 2010. The period covers coalition and Conservative governments.

 

After nine years of a Conservative government, police numbers are down 20%.

 

The total police workforce in England and Wales fell by 17% between March 2010 and March 2019, under coalition and Conservative governments. Police officer numbers fell by 14% in the same period.

 

After nine years of a Conservative government, crime is up 30%.

 

Incorrect. There’s no perfect measure of crime, but best estimates suggest it has fallen in England and Wales between 2009/10 and 2018/19, under coalition and Conservative governments.

 

After nine years of a Conservative government, local government funding is down 50%.

 

Government funding for local authorities in England fell by 49% between 2010/11 and 2017/18 in real terms, under coalition and Conservative governments. Councils have other revenue sources, and total “spending power” fell 29% in real terms in the same period.

 

After nine years of a Conservative government, public sector pay is down 15%.

 

Incorrect. Between May 2010 and July 2019 in Great Britain, , under coalition and Conservative governments, average weekly earnings in the public sector (excluding financial services) decreased by 1-2% in real terms.

Claim 1 of 8

“Everyone needs reminding that after 9 years of a Tory Government:

“Child poverty + 50%

“Food-bank use + 1,000%

“Homelessness + 170%

“NHS waiting list + 70%

“Police numbers - 20%

“Crime + 30%

“Local gov funding - 50%

“Public sector pay - 15%”

Freddie Bailey (Labour councillor), 5 October 2019

A viral tweet by a Labour councillor has been shared over 13,000 times. It makes a number of claims about what has happened after “9 years of a Tory Government”.

Of the eight claims, three are flatly wrong—the ones about child poverty, crime, and public sector pay. The other five claims are accurate, although some could benefit from additional context.

This article takes a look at each of the claims in turn, looking at the records of the coalition government from 2010-2015 and the Conservatives alone since then. Some of the figures seem to refer to the whole of the UK, while others focus on England and Wales, we’ve indicated where that is the case.

“Child poverty + 50%”

There are a number of ways to measure child poverty, but none of them show an increase of close to 50% since 2010.

The Social Metrics Commission, an independent group of experts on poverty, estimates that the number of UK children in poverty in 2017/18 is down by 2%, compared to 2009/10. The percentage of children in poverty is also down by two percentage points.

In addition, two standard measures of poverty used by government are the number of children living in a household in relative or absolute poverty (you can read more about how those measures are calculated here).

The number of children living in relative poverty in the UK in 2017/18 is up 5%, compared to 2009/10 (the last year before the Coalition government came into office). The percentage of children in relative poverty is the same now as it was in 2009/10.

The number of children living in absolute poverty is down 3%, and the percentage of children is down two percentage points.

These estimates all account for the housing costs of a household. But separate figures measure poverty before you factor that in. If you look at relative poverty, before housing costs, then the increase in child poverty between 2010/11 (rather than 2009/10) and 2017/18 is 30%. That’s the biggest increase we can see in the data in relation to this claim.

We did find a May 2018 article from the Independent stating: “Number of children growing up in poverty… up almost 50 per cent since 2010.” This is inaccurate as the research it is reporting on refers to children in working households growing up in poverty—not all children in poverty.

“Food-bank use + 1,000%”

In 2018/19, the Trussell Trust—a UK-wide network of food banks—gave out almost 1.6 million three-day emergency food supplies to people in crisis.

In 2009/10 it gave out almost 41,000 three-day packages, and in 2010/11 it gave out 61,000 supplies. Looking at either year, the increase is well over 1,000% to 2018/19. This is the number of individual three-day packages given out, not the number of people using Trussell Trust food banks altogether.

It’s difficult to know exactly how much this reflects increased need for emergency food supplies, and we’ve looked at this debate in more detail before. It’s also important to note that the Trussell Trust is not the only food bank network in the UK, so this isn’t a complete picture of food bank use.

 “Homelessness + 170%”

This most likely refers to the number of people who are sleeping rough in England (which isn’t the same as overall homelessness). Rough sleeping increased by 165% from 2010 to 2018 (we don’t have data for earlier than that).

However, we shouldn’t treat these statistics as definitive. The figures are estimated by councils in autumn each year, and largely involve counting the number of people sleeping rough on the streets on a single night. These estimates are known to undercount total rough sleeping and separate estimates for London, which are taken over the course of the year, show a higher number of rough sleepers than the government data.

Additionally, rough sleepers are a minority of all people who are officially defined as homeless in the UK. In many cases “homeless” refers to households that are threatened with the loss of, or unable to continue with, their current accommodation. Around 57,000 households in England were defined as homeless and owed a legal duty to be rehoused in 2017/18—an increase of 41% compared to 2009/10.

“NHS waiting list + 70%”

In May 2019 there were almost 4.4 million referrals for treatment on the NHS in England, where the treatment had not yet begun. These “incomplete” treatments are often referred to as the “waiting list”, and it saw an increase of 70% compared to May 2010.

In the most recent data (comparing July 2010 to July 2019) the increase is 65%.

 “Police numbers - 20%”

There were around 202,000 members of the police workforce in England and Wales in March 2019. That’s a decrease of 17% compared to March 2010.

Looking solely at police officers, the number fell by 14% over the same period—to just over 123,000 in March 2019.

This excludes some officers and staff like the British Transport Police, special constables, and those on secondments to central services.

“Crime + 30%”

Crime is very difficult to measure accurately, but the weight of evidence suggests that overall crime has fallen since 2010—and certainly not risen by 30%.

One measure—the total amount of crime recorded by the police in England and Wales—shows a 37% increase in crime between March 2010 and March 2019. But this is not a reliable way of measuring change over time. The figures can’t pick up crime that isn’t reported to the police, which is a particularly problem in cases of domestic violence and sexual offences. They’re also only as good as the police’s own recording practices, which haven’t been consistent over time.

Another measure is the Crime Survey for England and Wales, which is based on surveys of very large representative samples of the population. This shows that the total number of crime incidents fell by 33% from 2009/10 to 2018/19.

This data also has its problems—for example it can’t pick up crimes where there isn’t an obvious individual victim, or no victim to recall the event as is the case with murder—but it is a much more reliable measure than police recorded crime.

“Local gov funding - 50%”

The National Audit Office (NAO) found that government funding for councils in England fell by 49% between 2010/11 and 2017/18 in real terms. By 2019/20, it forecast the reduction to be 56%.

Grants from the government aren’t the only funding sources available to councils though. The two other main sources are revenue from business rates and council tax. The amount of funding from those two has increased in recent years, meaning that what councils have to spend (known as core spending power) has fallen by less than 50% overall. We’ve written more about how this is calculated here.

The NAO found that councils’ core spending power in England fell by 29% in real terms between 2010/11 and 2017/18.

“Public sector pay - 15%”

The 15% figure is a significant overstatement. Between May 2010 and July 2019 in Great Britain, average weekly earnings in the public sector (excluding financial services) decreased by 1-2% in real terms.

The exact decrease depends on whether you use the CPI or CPIH measure of inflation, which are both valid measures.

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