Labour MP contact tracing claim at PMQs out by factor of ten

9 November 2020
What was claimed

In Wales, Track and Trace costs £32 per head.

Our verdict

The Welsh government has put £102 million into Test, Trace and Protect, which works out at £32 per person in Wales. It is unclear whether this funding is the total amount spent on contact tracing in Wales.

What was claimed

In England, contact tracing costs £1700 per head.

Our verdict

This is based on a calculation which overestimates the cost by a factor of 10. £12 billion has been allocated to testing and tracing by the UK government, but this is not just for England and so cannot be compared to the costs specific to Wales.

“In Wales Track and Trace [sic] costs £32 a head, is run by local authorities and works whereas the English system costs £1700 a head, is run centrally and doesn’t...”

At Prime Minister’s Questions, Labour MP Ruth Jones claimed that the Welsh contact tracing programme cost £32 per person while the English system cost £1,700 per person. 

This is incorrect. The figure quoted for England is based on a calculation which is out by an order of ten. 

Even then, the figures cannot be compared in this way as the £12 billion (from which the £1,700 was miscalculated) funds testing and tracing across the UK, not just in England.

Don’t trust unsourced statistics in tweets

We’ve asked Ms Jones for the source of her data and a spokesperson confirmed the figure for England came from a tweet which was miscalculated. 

The Welsh cost of £32 per head was arrived at by dividing the £102 million the Welsh government allocated to contact tracing in its first and second supplementary budgets, by the population of Wales (roughly 3.15 million people).  

The figure for England was calculated by dividing the £12 billion provided for Test and Trace by an approximation for the population of the UK. 

However, doing the calculation properly actually gives a per head figure for England of around £177, not £1700. It appears that the original tweet rounded the per head figure down from £177 to £170 and accidentally added a rogue zero. 

Except, even if you did the calculations “correctly”, this wouldn’t represent the cost per person in England anyway.

Is this a fair way of comparing contact tracing systems?

Aside from the fact that the figures quoted by Ms Jones were wrongly calculated, the £12 billion cost isn’t just for England, but, as the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) told us, funds testing and tracing across the whole country.

It is still unclear which elements are paid for with which money. We asked both the Welsh government and DHSC for clarity.

A spokesperson for the Welsh government told us that, of the £102 million specifically for efforts in Wales, £57 million was for the Test Trace Protect programme as a whole and £45 million was made available to health boards and local authorities specifically for contact tracing. 

We’ll update this piece if we receive any more details on how the monies are spent.

As for the spending by DHSC, we know where some of the money is being spent.The contracts for Serco and Sitel, the two private firms involved in contact tracing, amount to £192 million of the £12 billion cost of Test and Trace.

We also know that £35 million has been designated or spent so far on the app, which is for residents in England and Wales

That suggests that the vast majority of the £12 billion is being spent in other areas and across the UK, which include local health teams and tests.

Update 21 January 2021

After publication Ms Jones partially corrected the record in parliament.

We took a stand for good information.

We got in touch to request a correction regarding a claim made by Ruth Jones in Parliament.

They made a correction.

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