Our key fact checks of the Labour Party in the 2019 general election campaign

11th Dec 2019

With the 2019 General Election just a day away, we’re rounding up the work we’ve done over the campaign in a series of easy-to-read guides to help you get the facts you need. 

This article summarises our fact checks of claims made by the Labour Party. You can find equivalent articles rounding up our fact checks of claims from the Conservative Party here, of the Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats here, and of Plaid Cymru, the Green Party and the Brexit Party here. (We’d recommend our colleagues at FactCheckNI for fact checks of Northern Irish politics.)

In our work this election, we've checked a range of the most important and prominent claims from all parties, but we have focused particularly on claims where we suspected there may be inaccuracy or the potential to mislead. All parties have also made accurate claims during this election, which we may not have written about, so we wouldn’t suggest using these roundups to judge how honest any party is overall. At the same time, just because we haven’t written about a particular claim doesn’t mean we’ve verified it as true.

Please follow the links to read our full length fact checks for each of these claims: these include links to all the sources we’ve used (so you can check our work for yourself).

Health

The NHS “will be forced to pay £500 million a week to US corporates for drugs”

This is a line that’s been used repeatedly by Labour during the campaign, suggesting that NHS drug prices could go up following a UK-US trade deal after Brexit. But as we wrote early in the campaign, it is not an estimate of the effects of a trade deal on drug prices. 

The £500 million a week figure is an extreme and unrealistic rough calculation based on how much more the NHS in England would pay for drugs if the amount it currently paid increased by 2.5 times (to match what drugs cost in the USA). That’s about £27 billion more a year.

An increase on this scale hasn’t happened in countries which have agreed trade deals with the USA, such as Australia. Health experts at the Nuffield Trust have told us this is a “fairly extreme” scenario. 

As we wrote in our article about the leaked trade documents that Labour said showed that the NHS was “on the table” in trade talks, it’s true that the US may seek provisions in any trade deal that could cause UK drug prices to rise. What we don’t know is how the UK would respond to such demands.

The NHS is “up for sale”

This has been a repeated theme of Labour’s throughout the campaign. In addition to the issue of potential drug price rises, we also looked at what’s happened with private sector spending in the NHS, and how a trade deal might affect this. 

We wrote that 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.) 

But some campaigners have raised concerns that, under the investor protection provisions of a future UK-US agreement, any future government could be prevented from reducing the levels of private provision within the NHS. 

Brexit

“Any other option”, other than Labour’s Brexit plans, “will require years of negotiations”

This was said by Jeremy Corbyn during the BBC Question Time leaders’ special. As we wrote then, Labour’s policy could mean the same. If Leave were to win the proposed referendum on Labour’s renegotiated withdrawal agreement, the UK would still have to finalise its new relationship with the EU. 

We don’t have enough details on what Labour’s Leave deal would mean to know how difficult that would be, and therefore how long it would take to negotiate and ratify a new agreement. But there is no realistic prospect of any trade deal by Mr Corbyn being in place immediately after a second referendum result.

Economy, tax and spending

Labour’s plans “will save average families over £6,700”

Labour claimed that costs to the average family had risen by almost £6,000 since 2010, while Labour policies would save the average family £6,700. But as we wrote in our fact check of these claims, very few of the figures Labour released represent what “average families” will save under Labour’s policies, or how much more those families have had to pay under the Conservatives. The calculations are not credible.

More than three quarters of the supposed “savings” come from just two large costs, rail season tickets and childcare, neither of which comes close to reflecting what an average family actually pays. In England, two fifths of families don’t pay anything for childcare; only 5% of people use a train more than three times a week.

“95% of the population will pay no more whatsoever in tax”

This was a claim also made by Mr Corbyn in the BBC Question Time leaders’ special, and reflected a pledge in the Labour manifesto. As we wrote in our fact check of that manifesto, it’s correct that it plans no increases in VAT, income tax or National Insurance for people earning less than £80,000, which is around 95% of taxpayers.

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. 

And as we wrote elsewhere, the Institute for Fiscal Studies says that “it is unlikely that one could raise the sums suggested by Labour from the tax policies they set out.” 

Millions of WASPI women “have been plunged into poverty”

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said on the Andrew Marr show that “millions” of women born between 1953 and 1960 (who were affected by changes in the state pension age) “have been plunged into poverty”. 

But as we wrote in our fact check, this is an exaggeration. We don’t know the exact number but it is likely substantially lower. For one thing, there aren’t millions of women aged 60-64 (the age group that includes most of those affected who have not yet retired) who are in poverty for any reason.

Police and Crime

“Recorded crime has risen, including violent crimes” 

Labour said this in their manifesto. But while it’s true that the number of crimes and violent crimes recorded by the police have risen, those figures don’t show what’s really happening. They largely 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, although some rarer but higher-harm offences, like knife crimes, have shown signs of increasing in recent years..

Other topics

The Conservatives’ ambition is “a state pension age of 75”

John McDonnell made the claim that the Conservatives plan to raise the state pension age to 75 in a speech. As we wrote then, it’s a claim we’ve seen before: when we first fact checked it in August, the Department for Work and Pensions told us that it is not government policy to do this. Nor is it mentioned in the Conservatives' 2019 manifesto.

This claim originally surfaced after the policy was recommended by the Centre for Social Justice think tank, which is chaired by former work and pensions secretary and Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith. But that doesn’t make it Conservative policy.

USA food standards rules specify “acceptable levels” of maggots in orange juice

One of the earliest claims of the campaign from Labour was that post-Brexit our food standards could be reduced to meet those of the USA, where there are supposedly “acceptable levels” of rat hairs in paprika and maggots in orange juice. But that’s based on a misreading of the American regulations.

As we discuss in our fact check, these are not “acceptable” levels. They’re actually the levels of contaminants in a foodstuff at which point the US requires mandatory enforcement action to be taken against food manufacturers. But action can still be taken against manufacturers if the amount of contaminants in their food falls below these levels. Also, there are no similar enforceable limits on levels of contaminants like this within the EU.