Child poverty, NHS waiting lists and government spending: BBC Scottish leaders’ debate fact checked

12 June 2024
What was claimed

The Scottish Child Payment is keeping 100,000 children out of poverty.

Our verdict

Modelling suggests 60,000 children will be kept out of relative poverty in 2024/25 specifically because of the Scottish Child Payment, with a further 40,000 kept out of relative poverty due to Scottish government policies more broadly.

What was claimed

There are 840,000 Scots on NHS waiting lists in Scotland.

Our verdict

It’s unclear what this is based on. Public Health Scotland does not release data on the number of individual patients waiting for treatment.

What was claimed

One in six or seven Scots are on an NHS waiting list in Scotland.

Our verdict

Again, Public Health Scotland doesn’t publish data on the number of individual patients on waiting lists. These figures appear to have been reached by adding other figures together, despite Public Health Scotland advising against this because they may count some people more than once.

What was claimed

After the election there will be “public spending cuts” of £18 billion.

Our verdict

In February the Institute for Fiscal Studies did estimate that ‘unprotected’ government departments could face reductions in spending of this scale, but it said there is uncertainty around this figure and in May said the actual amount could range between £10 billion and £20 billion.

The leaders of five of Scotland’s political parties went head-to-head on Tuesday 11 June in a BBC Debate Night special

The Full Fact team, some of whom are based in Glasgow, ‘live fact checked’ the debate. Here’s a round-up of some of the claims we looked at. 

Honesty in public debate matters

You can help us take action – and get our regular free email

Child poverty 

Scottish First Minister and SNP leader John Swinney claimed the Scottish Child Payment—a weekly payment of £26.70 issued to eligible low income families for each child under 16—is “keeping 100,000 children out of poverty”. The co-leader of the Scottish Green party, Lorna Slater, also seemed to refer to this figure. 

It appears to come from modelling which estimates that 100,000 children will be kept out of relative poverty in 2024/25 due to Scottish government policies. The modelling suggests 60,000 of those children will be kept out of relative poverty specifically because of the Scottish Child Payment. 

There are different ways to measure poverty, which we’ve written about before.

NHS waiting lists

The number of people in Scotland on NHS waiting lists was also discussed at several points in the debate. 

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said 840,000 Scots are on an NHS waiting list, and also claimed that amounts to one in six Scots, while Scottish Liberal Democrats leader Alex Cole-Hamilton referred to one in seven Scots being on waiting lists. However it’s unclear what any of those claims are based on, because Public Health Scotland (PHS) doesn’t publish data on the number of unique patients waiting for treatment. 

Scottish Labour has previously told us that Mr Sarwar’s estimate adds together PHS figures on the number of waits for outpatient appointments, inpatient admissions and eight key diagnostic tests, which is then divided by Scotland’s population.

But PHS has warned these figures “should not be added together to determine the proportion of the total population waiting for these types of care”, because individual patients may be counted more than once if they’re waiting for multiple appointments or admissions. 

£18 billion ‘public spending cuts’ 

Finally, Mr Swinney referred several times to “£18 billion of public spending cuts” coming after the election, whichever party forms the next government at Westminster. 

This figure seems to be based on an Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) estimate in February, in advance of the Spring Budget, of the real-terms reductions in spending unprotected government departments could face by 2028/29. 

In May, however, the IFS said there’s uncertainty around this figure, because there are no published plans beyond this year. It said: “Precisely how big those cuts are depends on what happens to the ‘protected’ areas (such as health and defence), among other things. 

“The whole point is, there are no published plans beyond this year, meaning that we do not know. A reasonable estimate is that unprotected budgets face cuts of between 1.9% and 3.5% per year (or between £10 and £20 billion by 2028–29).”

Image courtesy of the BBC. 

Support provided by:

European Media and Information Fund EMIF logo

The sole responsibility for any content supported by the European Media and Information Fund lies with the author(s) and it may not necessarily reflect the positions of the EMIF and the Fund Partners, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and the European University Institute.

Full Fact fights bad information

Bad information ruins lives. It promotes hate, damages people’s health, and hurts democracy. You deserve better.