BBC Question Time under-30s special: fact checked

10th Dec 2019

Last night we watched a special edition of BBC Question Time, where representatives of all seven main parties in Great Britain were questioned by an audience of 18-30 year olds. We’ve fact checked the key claims and major topics from the debate.

On the panel were: Robert Jenrick, Conservative secretary of state for housing, communities and local government; Angela Rayner, Labour shadow education secretary; Jo Swinson, leader of the Liberal Democrats; Humza Yousaf, SNP justice secretary in the Scottish government; Adam Price, leader of Plaid Cymru; Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green Party; and Nigel Farage, leader of the Brexit Party.

Environment

Robert Jenrick said we are decarbonising faster than any other major country in the world. The UK has exceeded its own targets in cutting emissions compared to 1990 levels, and has made bigger cuts than other G7 countries. But this isn’t expected to be enough to meet future targets.

Jo Swinson said that 40,000 people a year in our country die because of dirty air. This claim comes from a 2016 report from the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. It looks at the number of deaths attributable to outdoor air pollution.

However, these numbers should be viewed with caution. It is not the case that these are all people 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.

Adam Price said that we are facing the extinction of one million species on the planet—one in seven species. This is close to correct, according to some estimates, which say that out of an estimated eight million species, one million plant and animal species are currently threatened with extinction.

Another study by conservation experts estimates within Great Britain specifically, 15% of animal, plant and fungi species (very close to one in seven) are threatened with extinction. 

It is worth noting that there is some uncertainty around these estimates for various reasons, including the fact that only a small number of insect and fungi species were assessed. 

Nigel Farage said that we’re emitting less than 2% of global CO2. That’s correct. According to the OECD, the UK accounted for 1.9% of global CO2 emissions based on consumption in 2011. The World Bank says that in 2019 the UK comprises around 4% of the world’s GDP.

Economy

Angela Rayner said that there are four million children in poverty. This all depends on where you draw the poverty line, but official figures do suggest around 4.1 million children in the UK live in a household on relative low income. However work by the independent Social Metrics Commission suggests when other living costs are factored in, around 4.6 million could be in poverty. 

Jonathan Bartley claimed that we have “4.5 million economically inactive people” arguing we have the workforce to build more homes.

People over 16 fall into one of two camps. The first is being economically active. This either means you work or you’ve been looking for work in the past four weeks and can start within the next two (unemployed).

The second is being economically inactive, which includes people not in employment who haven’t been looking for work recently or can’t start within the next fortnight.

There were 19.3 million economically inactive people in July to September 2019, not 4.5 million as Mr Bartley said.

It is likely that Mr Bartley was repeating figures from a recent OECD and Centre for Cities report which estimated there are 4.5 million people who are either officially unemployed or whose unemployment is “hidden”. These “hidden unemployed” are a subset of the economically inactive group who don’t meet the official definition of being unemployed, but who may be willing to work or have stopped looking for work for economic reasons.

For example, this includes people with health issues or a disability who could work with support, those who take care of relatives due to a lack of access to care facilities, people who have taken early retirement, and people who think there are no available jobs.

It’s contentious to include these people in the number of people available to start work. 

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) responded to this saying their figures were based on internationally-agreed definitions: “If the definition were widened, for example by including people not looking for work because of health problems, it would stop being a measure of spare employment capacity.”

Humza Yousaf said that 87,000 affordable homes have been built in Scotland and most were homes for social rent. The SNP came into government in Scotland in May 2007. According to official statistics, since April to June that year 87,000 affordable homes have been completed in Scotland under the Affordable Housing Supply Programme.

Of those, around 60,000 homes have been for social renting. This includes new council houses, homes from registered social landlords who are regulated by the Scottish Housing Regulator, and the home owners’ support fund (where the Scottish Government helps owners who are experiencing difficulty in paying loans that are secured against their property).

Not all of these homes are necessarily newly built, some were purchased and others refurbished.

Brexit

Robert Jenrick and Angela Rayner clashed over the role parliament played in passing the Withdrawal Agreement in October and whether it voted against the Brexit timetable.

In October, MPs voted to approve the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by Boris Johnson’s government at ‘second reading’. This is one stage in the process of Parliament passing a Bill and indicates broad support.

But that’s not the last chance MPs would have had to vote on the Bill.

After voting to allow the Bill to move on to committee stage, the Commons voted against the “programme motion”, which was the government’s proposed timetable for those next stages. This would have allowed just two days for the scrutiny of the Bill. This short timetable has been described by the Institute for Government as “extraordinary”, especially given the significance of the Bill.

After this vote rejected the government’s timetable, the Prime Minister said the government would “pause” the Bill until the EU had made a decision on whether to offer an extension to the-then Brexit deadline of 31 October.

The EU agreed to extend the Brexit deadline to 31 January 2020.

Education

Angela Rayner also said that Labour didn't triple tuition fees and that they were £1,000 under Labour. That's incorrect. Labour tripled fees from £1,000 per year to £3,000 per year in 2006 in England and Northern Ireland and in Wales the following year. We've written more about this here.