Labour party manifesto 2019: fact checked

Published: 21st Nov 2019

This page will feature all our fact checks on the Labour party manifesto for the 2019 general election. As with all our fact checks of party manifestos, we expect to update it on an ongoing basis as we write more about the claims made.

Brexit

In his launch speech, Jeremy Corbyn said Boris Johnson’s claim that he will get Brexit done was “a fraud on the British people”.

It’s not fraudulent of Boris Johnson to say his deal gets Brexit done. If approved by parliament, his withdrawal agreement—which is what he refers to as his “oven-ready” deal—would mean that the UK stops being a member of the EU. 

But Jeremy Corbyn is right to point out that the Brexit process will continue for many years. Mr Johnson’s withdrawal agreement wouldn’t secure a trade deal with the EU. The UK would enter a “transition period” during which we would still follow EU rules and pay money to the EU. This is set to run until the end of 2020 but could be extended by either one year or two. At the end of the transition period, the UK could either start trading with the EU under the terms of a newly-negotiated trade deal, or start trading with the EU on WTO or “no deal” terms.

Mr Corbyn also cited EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier as saying a UK-EU Brexit deal would take three years to negotiate.

Michel Barnier’s quote needs to be understood in context. Last month, he said of a future trade deal: “we will have to renegotiate for one year, two years, three years, maybe more in some areas, to rebuild all that will have been pulled apart by the desire of those backing Brexit.”

So he was not totally definitive, and the phrase “in some areas” is important. It might be possible for the UK and EU to conclude the trade deal before some smaller aspects are finalised. For example, the EU’s trade deal with Canada came mostly into force in 2017, but some aspects were not implemented then.

Nonetheless, experts say extending the transition period beyond 2020 “may prove unavoidable”. It’s also worth noting that none of the EU’s other recent free trade agreements have been negotiated and provisionally implemented in under three years. One difference in this case is that Boris Johnson’s government and the EU have already agreed some broad principles for what a future deal should look like.

The EU’s track record brings us on to the question of how long a UK trade deal with the USA would take. Jeremy Corbyn says it would take “even longer” than three years, and he has previously pointed to the EU-Canada trade deal as an example.

That deal took five years to negotiate, and another two before it was provisionally applied. That doesn’t mean a UK-US trade deal necessarily would take as long. We’ve not seen any robust predictions for how long a UK-US deal would take, and we don’t yet know exactly what would be on the table during discussions.

Some major EU trade deals (for example with South Korea and Ukraine) have taken longer than seven years to provisionally implement, while others have been quicker than that.

The NHS

At the manifesto launch Jeremy Corbyn said: “Mr Johnson is preparing to sell out our National Health Service for a United States trade deal that will drive up the cost of medicines and lead to the runaway privatisation of our health service.

“500 million a week of NHS money, enough for 20,000 new nurses, could be handed to big drugs companies as part of a deal now being plotted in secret.”

Boris Johnson addressed similar claims in Tuesday’s ITV debate, saying:

“It is completely untrue. There are no circumstances whatever in which this Government or any Conservative government will put the NHS on the table in any trade negotiation. Our NHS will never be for sale.” 

If you are willing to accept Boris Johnson’s promise, you could stop reading now.

We can’t know for sure what any government will do. We can examine some of Labour’s claims and what we know about the trade negotiations and how they might affect the NHS. 

The claim that NHS drug costs will increase by £500 million a week is extreme and unrealistic. It has not been the case in countries which have agreed trade deals with the USA, such as Australia. It also depends on a UK government being willing to accept a deal which would increase the costs of the NHS by £27 billion a year.

As we’ve said before a trade deal is unlikely to fundamentally redesign the way the NHS is funded and American companies can already bid for private contracts to provide clinical services in England (health services in Scotland and Wales are devolved and are not run on the basis of contracts.) 

In both cases there are genuine concerns.

Published US negotiating objectives for a UK-US trade deal make clear that the US aims to improve the access that US pharmaceutical companies have in the UK.  It is possible that this will have some impact on drug prices.

Meanwhile, one concern about a trade deal is that the “investor protection” mechanisms could stop a future UK government from reducing the levels of private provision within the NHS without paying compensation to US investors. The British Medical Association has called for the NHS to be carved-out from the investor protection mechanisms of any future UK trade agreement.

We've looked at this in greater depth here.

The Labour manifesto claims that there are 100,000 staff vacancies in NHS England, including a shortage of 43,000 nurses.

There were around 96,000 staff whole-time equivalent (WTE) vacancies in NHS trusts in England between January and March 2019, according to information from NHS Improvement. Whole-time equivalent refers to the number of staff there would be if their hours were all added together to create only full-time jobs.

This data only goes back to the first quarter of 2017/18 and has stayed at around 100,000 since then.

Importantly, just because there are 96,000 vacancies overall doesn’t mean no-one is doing those jobs. NHS Improvement has previously said that between 90-95% of these vacancies were being filled by temporary staff.

There are around 39,500 WTE nursing vacancies. The 43,000 figure reflected the vacancies in autumn 2018 and so is now slightly out of date.

All this data from NHS Improvement is based on management information and is not an official statistic, so should be treated with some caution.

The manifesto also claims that there are 15,000 fewer hospital beds.

This is correct for NHS England. Since the Conservatives came to office as part of the Coalition government in 2010, the number of overnight beds available in the English NHS has fallen by 15,800 (or 11%). If you include day only beds then the number has fallen by 14,900 (or 10%). But this itself doesn’t tell you much about the quality of the health service.

Medical advancements mean that the need for beds has fallen over time. The NHS is getting more efficient at seeing patients in hospital and more of us are being seen on the same day rather than staying overnight.

To see how often the beds we do have are being used we can look at the bed occupancy rate. The proportion of general and acute beds occupied averaged over 90% in 2018/19, experts have suggested that bed occupancy at this level indicates a shortage of beds.

Labour goes on to say that every winter, bed occupancy rates exceed dangerous levels.

It depends on your definition of dangerous levels. In the Winter of 2017, NHS Improvement and NHS England said bed occupancy should be below 92% to maintain patient flow. The Royal College of Emergency Medicine and the Royal College recommends that the threshold should be 85%. According to the Nuffield Trust, every hospital trust’s average bed occupancy was above 85% last winter.

The Labour manifesto claims that, in the UK, life expectancy is stalling and infant mortality rates are increasing, especially among those living in our most deprived communities.

Life expectancy growth has slowed in recent years and has almost stopped. In some local authorities in the UK it’s falling. 

The infant mortality rate (which is the number of deaths for those under one per 1,000 live births) across the UK has been 3.9 since 2013. The most up-to-date figures are for 2017. For England, the number slightly increased from 3.9 to 4 between 2016 and 2017, and from 3.1 to 3.4 in Wales. The rate dropped in Northern Ireland between these years and stayed the same in Scotland.

Environment

The manifesto contained a number of claims about the environment. It said that “just 100 companies globally are responsible for the majority of carbon emissions.”

This claim needs some context. It comes from a 2017 report from a charity which works with companies to publish their environmental impact data. Excluding some things like agricultural methane, between 1988 and 2015, 71% of the estimated greenhouse gas emissions from human activity originated from 100 fossil fuel producing companies.

This includes the emissions released when this fuel was used by their customers.

The manifesto also said: “Our polluted air contributes to over 40,000 premature deaths a year.” 

The claim that there are 40,000 premature deaths a year comes from a 2016 report from the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. The report looks at the number of attributable deaths from the amount of particulate matter (very small solid and liquid material between the size of a virus and the thickness of a human hair) in the air and the number of deaths attributable to nitrogen dioxide (a toxic gas which comes from petrol or diesel car engines or natural gas in a domestic central heating boiler or power station) in the air. 

However, these numbers should be viewed with some amount of caution. It is not the case that these are all individuals who have pollution on their death certificate as their cause of death. Air pollution generally makes existing illnesses worse rather than directly killing people. This number is based on an estimate which is derived from large scale studies with large margins of error.

The manifesto also claimed that “energy use in buildings accounts for 56% of the UK’s total emissions, making it the single most polluting sector.”

This doesn’t seem quite right. Transport is the single biggest sector for emissions in the UK at 27%.

We’ve seen Labour make a similar claim before, that “electricity and heat use in buildings, when taken together represent 56% of the UK total” of emissions. This seems to come from government breakdowns on which sectors released the most greenhouse gas emissions in 2017. 

It looks like Labour added together the emissions that come from the energy supply sector (24%), business (17%) and residential (15%) sectors, to get 56% of total emissions. 

But it’s unclear how this relates to ‘buildings’ as Labour claims and we’re going to look into this further. 

Tax

Jeremy Corbyn also said Labour’s manifesto was costed with: 

“No increases in VAT or income tax or National Insurance for anyone earning less than £80,000.

“There is no increase for 95% of taxpayers.”

It’s correct that the Labour manifesto plans no increases in VAT, income tax or National Insurance for people earning less than £80,000.

It’s also correct that people earning less than £80,000 account for around 95% of taxpayers (somewhere between 95% and 96% according to 2016/17 figures from HMRC).

But that doesn’t mean Labour plans no tax rises whatsoever for these people, because there’s more to tax than just VAT, income tax and National Insurance.

For example Labour’s manifesto commits to scrapping marriage allowance, a policy introduced in 2015 which gives a tax break to couples with a combined income of under £62,500. 

In 2018/19, 1.78 million people claimed marriage allowance at a cost of £485 million.  

Apart from that there are various other taxes that could affect people with salaries of under £80,000. 

Labour has pledged to reverse cuts to inheritance tax made by the Conservatives since 2017, which allowed people to pass on an amount of property tax-free, in addition to the existing £325,000 tax free allowance which applies to all assets. 

Scrapping the property allowance will obviously affect higher earners more than lower earners, but that’s not to say that people earning less than £80,000 will be unaffected by the proposal.

Labour has also proposed extending the sugar tax to milk-based drinks, which will affect everyone who buys those products, regardless of salary. 

Aside from taxes that affect individuals directly, there’s also taxes on businesses to consider.

Labour also plans to put corporation tax back up to 26%, following reductions over the past nine years. 

We typically think of corporation tax being associated with large companies, but corporation tax is paid by all limited businesses

Around one million UK businesses in 2017/18 had a corporation tax bill of up to £10,000, meaning in most cases their profits would have been no higher than £53,000.

Reversing reductions to corporation tax would affect the owners of these businesses some of whom will earn below £80,000 per year.

Crime

Labour says the Conservatives have taken "21,000 police officers off our streets". It’s correct that there are 20,600 fewer officers in England and Wales between March 2010 and March 2019. The number is close to the lowest recorded level since the early 1980s.

These figures refer to the number of full time equivalent officers (or how many there would be if you added up all their hours to make full time roles).

The party claims "recorded crime has risen, including violent crimes". This is not what’s happening in reality.

The number of crimes and violent crimes “recorded” by the police have risen, but those figures don’t show what’s really happening as they substantially reflect improved recording practices and can only ever reflect what comes to the attention of police.

Overall levels of crime have “remained broadly stable in recent years,'' after decades of reductions according to the Office for National Statistics, based on figures from the Crime Survey for England and Wales. There has also been little change in overall levels of violent crime.

These figures are based on a survey of adults who recall their experiences of crime, and while they’re better at measuring crime than the police figures are, they still have limitations.

Labour also claims knife crime is "up 80% in the last five years". You can get figures of around 80% depending on which time period you look at, but this is generally what’s been happening to recorded knife crimes between 2014/15 and 2018/19.

Again, we can’t fully rely on police figures to tell us what’s happening to crime, but there’s some additional evidence from hospital admissions that knife crime is getting worse. The Crime Survey is much less useful at giving us a clear picture on this kind of crime, as it happens relatively rarely.

Labour also focuses on hate crimes, saying they’ve "more than doubled in the last five years", and that disability hate crimes have gone "up 37% in the last year alone".

That second claim is inaccurate. Recorded disability hate crimes have gone up 14% in the past year in England and Wales—37% is the rise in transgender hate crimes.

Recorded hate crimes have doubled between 2012/13 and 2018/19, but again, all these changes have been mainly driven by improvements in how the police record crime, and also probably by growing awareness of hate crimes leading to increased reporting.

Social care

The manifesto said that “Social care funding cuts have left 1.5 million older people without the care they need.”

This figure comes from Age UK analysis that says the number of older people in England with some level of unmet need is 1.5 million. Age UK told us it used the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing for 2016/17, which is a survey that asks older people a number of questions about their needs, and what help they are given. 

Age UK’s definition of people who had an unmet need for social care was if they “have difficulty with one or more of six activities of daily living (washing, dressing, getting in or out of bed, using the toilet, eating, walking across a room)” and “either receive no formal or informal help with these difficulties, or any help they receive, either from formal or informal sources, does not meet their needs”.

The researchers then scaled up the responses using population population data from the Office for National Statistics to the number of people over 65, to get an estimate of 1.5 million.

Age UK did not make any assessment of the extent to which reductions to social care funding are the reason for unmet needs among older people.

The manifesto also said “Almost £8 billion has been lost from social care budgets since 2010.”

This figure refers to the savings councils in England have made on adult social care spending since 2010, not the amount their overall adult social care budgets were reduced by. 

The councils reported having made £7.7 billion (£8.3 billion after factoring in inflation) of savings through things like efficiency measures and contract renegotiations. This all comes from a report by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services.

Since 2010/11, annual council spending on adult social care services has fallen by around 2% in real terms from around £16.5 billion to £16.1 billion in 2018/19. During that period, spending initially fell more sharply before rising again in recent years.

We’ve written more about this claim here.

Poverty

The Labour party claims that “work no longer guarantees a way out of poverty. Of 14.3 million people in poverty, nine million live in families where at least one adult works."

It’s correct that an estimated 14.3 million people live in poverty in the UK as of 2017/18, according to the independent Social Metrics Commission (SMC). While this is probably the best available estimate available, it isn’t a definitive figure: poverty means different things to different people and putting a specific number on it will always just give one perspective.

Of those, the same research estimates there are nine million families with at least one adult in work. In other words, more than six in ten people in poverty live in a family where someone works.

There are also official statistics on low income published by the government, which are often used as measures of poverty, although they’re less comprehensive than the figures we’ve discussed above.

They show that, in 2017/18, 57% of people in relatively poverty were in a household where someone works, and that’s been on a rising trend for decades.

Labour also says that "400,000 pensioners have been pushed into poverty". This isn’t accurate according to the SMC—which seems to have been Labour’s source for its figures on overall and in-work poverty. The SMC estimates that pensioner poverty has not significantly changed at all since 2010.

But the government’s data on pensioner poverty does show an increase of about 400,000 between 2009/10 and 2017/18, using a measure of relative low income.

UPDATE:

Since we originally published this article we've fact checked whether a million more households are renting from a private landlord. That's correct and you can read more about it here.

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