A post by the Labour party on Facebook, and on Twitter, claims the Chancellor Rishi Sunak spent £8.7 billion on “dodgy PPE so useless it will have to be burnt”.
While a large amount of PPE purchased during the pandemic is now being burned, the figure £8.7 billion refers to PPE spending which has been written off. Some of the equipment this relates to may still be usable, and some which isn’t usable is being recycled or donated.
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Where does the £8.7 billion figure come from?
The £8.7 billion refers to the loss in value of PPE bought in 2020/21, as estimated by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).
Of this, £4.7 billion relates to “reductions in market prices since the goods were purchased.” This may reflect the fact that PPE costs increased significantly when demand was high in early 2020.
While the value of this PPE has fallen since purchase, some of the PPE this loss relates to may still have been usable at the end of the 2020/21 financial year, and so was not “so useless it will have to be burnt”.
Of the remaining £4 billion of lost value, around £0.7 billion was spent on defective PPE, around £0.8 billion on PPE that was designated surplus to requirements, and £2.6 billion on PPE not suitable for the health and social care sector, but which may be usable elsewhere.
DHSC officials have said some of this PPE has already been used outside the NHS, though the exact proportion is unclear. For example, in evidence to the Public Accounts Committee on 7 March 2022, Jonathan Marron, Director-General at the DHSC’s Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, told MPs that more than 200 million masks were “made available to schools and transport”. In some cases, items have also been sold.
The department has also said that three billion of these items are technically compliant gloves being held pending investigations into allegations of modern slavery. The department said if these concerns "are met”, it will try to return the items and get its money back.
Overall it is unclear how much PPE will ultimately be burnt, though it’s likely to be a lot. Mr Marron told the Public Accounts Committee that the rate of disposal through this route would eventually reach 15,000 pallets per month, partly to provide power.
We asked Labour for comment but it had not responded at the time of publication.
What about fraud?
Labour’s post also claims the Chancellor approved £4.3 billion in Covid loans to fraudsters.
This appears to refer to the £4.3 billion lost to fraud and error through schemes such as furlough and Eat Out to Help Out, which HMRC does not expect to be able to recover—though these were not loans, but grants. The total amount lost to fraud and error under these schemes, including the amount expected to be recovered, was £5.8 billion.
Additionally, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy estimates further fraud-related losses from business loans it issued during the pandemic of around £6 billion, though this estimate is quite uncertain.
Image courtesy of Simon Davis/DFID
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After we published this fact check, we contacted the Labour party to request a correction regarding this claim.
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