Politics Live

Full Fact’s rolling blog of fact checks, commentary and analysis.

10 June 2024, 11.01pm

Fact checked: Rishi Sunak’s interview on BBC Panorama

Tonight we’ve been ‘live fact checking’ the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak during the first of BBC Panorama’s interviews with party leaders, and have looked at a number of claims.

Mr Sunak said NHS waiting lists “have risen … they are now coming down”. While it’s true that the number of cases on the main NHS England waiting list has fallen from a high of 7.8 million in September 2023, it’s still higher now than when Mr Sunak pledged that waiting lists would “fall” in January 2023. We’ve unpacked the numbers in our explainer on NHS waiting lists.

Mr Sunak also claimed that net migration was “down 10% from the levels that I inherited”. This is broadly right—as we’ve previously written, net migration was down 10% in 2023 compared to 2022. But it was still nearly four times higher in 2023 than in 2019, when the Conservatives pledged to bring down “overall numbers”. 

The interview included a number of questions about taxes and Mr Sunak made several claims we’ve seen before. 

Firstly, he claimed “taxes are being cut”. It’s true that National Insurance contributions have been reduced, but the nation’s so-called ‘tax burden’ is high and forecast to rise to a near-record level. Mr Sunak was correct to say the effective personal tax rate for the average earner is the lowest for decades, but this doesn’t include all the taxes people pay. 

He also spoke about a “£900 tax cut this year”. This appears to refer to the combined value of the reductions in National Insurance contributions in January and April 2024—but this figure is specifically for an average earner and doesn’t take account of any other tax changes. The Institute for Fiscal Studies says once the impact of all tax changes since 2021 is factored in, an average earner will save £340 in 2024/25. 

Mr Sunak repeated a claim we’ve heard a lot in the past week, that families would face a £2,000 tax rise under a future Labour government. As we’ve explained, this figure is unreliable and based on a number of questionable assumptions. 

Finally, Mr Sunak claimed children in England are “the best readers in the western world”. As we wrote last week, this appears to be based on the results of a 2022 international study. According to another measure from that year, however, pupils in Ireland and the US were better readers. 

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10 June 2024, 5.04pm

Liberal Democrat manifesto fact checked

This morning the Liberal Democrats officially launched their 2024 manifesto, which we’ve spent the day scrutinising.  

We’ve published an initial roundup of a number of claims made in the manifesto, including on tax, the asylum backlog and GP numbers, which you can read here

With several manifestos set to be released this week, we’ll be fact checking the pledges from other major parties in the same way. You can keep up to date with our most recent work on X (formerly Twitter)

9 June 2024, 3.37pm

Conservative video fails to address concerns over unreliable ‘£2,094 tax rise’ claim

This morning the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak posted a two-and-a-half minute video on X (formerly Twitter) with a much more detailed explanation of a claim we’ve heard lots in the last few days—that under Labour, “every working household” would face a £2,094 tax rise.

The video was trailed in a separate short video put out by the Conservatives last night, with the words: “The proof. 8am.”

But as we wrote last week in our own detailed analysis of the claim, the £2,094 figure is unreliable and based on a number of questionable assumptions—and today’s explanatory video doesn’t address many of the concerns about it. 

For example, the video says the figure’s “overwhelmingly based on official costings signed off by the Treasury”, but fails to mention that many such costings rely on assumptions from special advisers, who are political appointees. We wrote about this point in particular on our Election Live blog as well.

9 June 2024, 2.31pm

How close do the polls put Reform UK to the Conservatives?

On the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg this morning, Nigel Farage, Reform UK leader and candidate for the seat of Clacton, claimed “right now we’re just two to three points behind the Conservatives”.

As was suggested by Laura Kuenssberg towards the end of the show, this is a selective take on what the polls are currently showing. 

Of the polls we’ve seen, there have been three where the gap between the two parties was that small. YouGov’s from 3-4 June had the Conservatives on 19% and Reform UK on 17%. Its latest poll from 5-6 June shows Reform UK dropping one percentage point to 16% while the Conservatives remained on 19%. And another poll which shows the Conservatives within two to three points is Redfield and Wilton's from 5-6 June, which also has the Conservatives on 19% and Reform UK on 17%. 

However, there have been a number of other polls which show a wider gap. 

For instance, Deltapoll from 6-8 June puts the Conservatives on 21% and Reform UK on 12%, while Whitestone Insight from 7 June has the Conservatives on 22% and Reform UK on 16%, WeThink from 6-7 June reports Conservatives on 20% and Reform UK on 15%, Opinium from 5-7 June has the Conservatives on 24% and Reform UK on 12%, and Savanta from 5-7 June reports the Conservatives on 26% and Reform UK on 11%. 

Speaking on the programme, Mr Farage said he had concerns over how some pollsters prompted for Reform UK when recording voting intention. We have contacted Reform UK for comment and will update this post if we receive a response.

Image courtesy of Gage Skidmore

9 June 2024, 12.36pm

Has child poverty fallen by 100,000 since 2010?

On Sky News’ Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips, work and pensions secretary Mel Stride claimed “we have reduced child poverty in this country by 100,000” since 2010.

Mr Stride’s claim is true according to one measure of child poverty—“absolute” low income after housing costs. The latest data shows the number of children on this measure fell from 3.7 million in 2009/10 to 3.6 million in 2022/23. 

But other measures show a rise in child poverty since 2010.

For example, the equivalent figure for absolute low income before housing costs shows an increase since 2009/10, from 2.5 million to 2.6 million. 

The number of children in “relative” poverty after housing costs has increased since 2009/10, from 3.9 million to 4.3 million. And it’s also increased before housing costs, from 2.6 million to 3.2 million in 2022/23.

We wrote more about these figures and the different ways to measure child poverty last month.

7 June 2024, 10.27pm

BBC’s seven-party election debate: fact checked

This evening we’ve been fact checking politicians from seven parties as they took part in the BBC’s first televised debate of the 2024 general election.

Appearing were the Conservative party’s Penny Mordaunt; Labour’s Angela Rayner; the Green Party’s Carla Denyer; the Liberal Democrats’ Daisy Cooper; the SNP’s Stephen Flynn, Plaid Cymru’s Rhun ap Iorworth and Reform UK’s Nigel Farage.

Ms Mordaunt repeated a claim we’ve seen several times from the Conservatives so far this election—she said Labour is going to put taxes up by “£2,000 per working household”. This figure is unreliable and based on a number of questionable assumptions. The Office for Statistics Regulation has also issued a statement criticising the Conservatives’ use of this figure. 

Then Ms Rayner claimed there have been 26 tax rises under the Conservatives. This is similar to a claim we’ve looked at before—it’s not clear how Labour arrived at this figure and they’ve not published their workings.

Mr Farage claimed the so-called ‘tax burden’ is the “highest in this country since 1948”. 

It’s true that the ‘tax burden’—which refers to tax revenues as a percentage of gross domestic product—was the highest since the late 1940s in 2022/23. It’s since fallen slightly, but is forecast to increase over the next five years to a near-record level. We wrote about this last month.

During a discussion about the NHS, Mr Flynn claimed £18 billion of public sector “cuts” are “coming down the line”. 

This was the Institute for Fiscal Studies’ estimate in March of the real-terms reductions in spending “unprotected” government departments could face by 2028/29. However, the IFS has also said there’s uncertainty around the exact figures, as there aren’t published spending plans beyond this year. 

It now estimates unprotected budgets could face reductions of between £10 billion and £20 billion by 2028/29. This doesn’t appear to include the NHS however, as its budget is ‘protected’.

Finally, Ms Mordaunt claimed the Conservatives had met their 2019 manifesto commitment of “20,000 more police officers”. That’s true, but it comes after a substantial decline in police numbers between 2010 and 2018. 

We wrote more about these figures back in March. As of September 2023, there were 3,134 more police officers in England and Wales than in 2010.

7 June 2024, 1.30pm

Liberal Democrats’ Munira Wilson claims ‘tax burden’ is at its highest since WWII

The Liberal Democrats’ spokesperson for education, Munira Wilson, claimed in an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme [2:41:47] this morning that families are “facing the highest tax burden since the second world war”. 

The so-called ‘tax burden’ refers to tax revenues as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP). While the financial year 2022/23 saw the highest tax burden since 1949—which had decreased marginally from 1948 when the records began—it fell slightly in the most recent year. The Office for Budget Responsibility has, however, forecast it to increase over each of the next five years to a near-record level. 

Other politicians have made a similar claim that the tax burden is at the highest level in over 70 years, which we’ve written about several times before

We’ve contacted the Liberal Democrats for comment and will update this article if we receive a response.

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6 June 2024, 8.16pm

Office for Statistics Regulation criticises Conservatives over ‘£2,000 tax rise’ claim

The Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) has called on political parties to use statistics with “intelligent transparency”, following days of scrutiny of the Conservatives’ claim that a Labour government would mean £2,000 higher taxes per working family.

We’ve written a full fact check on this figure, finding it to be unreliable and based on a number of questionable assumptions. We also published a blog post noting that the claim was not solely based on Treasury costings, after Rishi Sunak claimed during the 4 June TV debate that “independent Treasury officials have costed Labour’s policies and they amount to a £2,000 tax rise”. 

The OSR, which provides independent regulation of official statistics, said in its statement: “When distilling claims into a single number, the context should be sufficient to allow the average person to understand what it means and how significant it is.”

The OSR said it had not commented on the accuracy of the figure because its “remit focuses on official statistics produced by Government”. 

But it warned that someone hearing the figure would have “no way of knowing that this is an estimate summed together over four years”, and added: “We warned against this practice a few days ago, following its use in presenting prospective future increases in defence spending.”

We’ve asked the Conservative party for comment and will update this post if we hear back.

6 June 2024, 5.02pm

Would the Lib Dems’ plan to tax share buybacks raise £1.4 billion a year?

After the debate between Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer on Tuesday, ITV’s Anushka Asthana challenged Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey on whether his party’s proposed share buyback scheme would raise £1.4 billion a year, saying the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) believed that because of the way people will change their behaviour, it will raise “next to nothing”.

A share buyback is a purchase by a company of its own shares. The Liberal Democrat policy proposes a 4% share buyback tax, paid by the 100 biggest corporations on the stock exchange, which the party claims “could raise around £1.4 billion a year” to pay for extending free school meals to an additional 900,000 children.

Mr Davey suggested he disagreed with the IFS analysis and claimed “last year if we had this share buyback scheme we would have raised £2.3 billion”. He also claimed the Liberal Democrat calculations “allowed for behavioural change”. 

In a press release the Lib Dems claimed that, based on current buyback levels, “a 4% tax would raise around £2.2bn a year”. It noted: “We have taken a cautious approach to account for potential changes in company behaviour, estimating it would raise around £1.4bn a year.”

Mr Davey also pointed to the success of a similar scheme in the US, saying “they raised a huge amount of money” through this approach.

Stuart Adam, a senior economist at the IFS, told Full Fact that he’d be “surprised if a 4% tax on share buybacks in the UK raised much revenue”. He added: “To a large extent I would expect companies simply to stop using share buybacks, and to pay dividends instead if they wanted to return money to shareholders. More importantly, however, there is no clear justification for the policy: it seems a particularly distortionary form of tax rise.”

The Liberal Democrats pointed Full Fact to their blog post on the policy and highlighted the think tank Institute for Public Policy Research’s (IPPR)  tweet welcoming the policy. 

The IPPR called for a share buyback tax in 2022 “to ensure that companies are not channelling profits to their shareholders at a time of national economic crisis”. 

However, they called for a 1% tax instead of 4%, and warned “levying a higher tax on buybacks is likely to discourage companies from repurchasing their own stock” so it is “fair to assume that the revenues raised from a buyback tax will change in line with the level at which they are taxed”. 

Separately, the Lib Dems have also promised to make personal care for the elderly and the disabled free, and raise care workers’ pay, which they estimate will cost £2.7 billion, funding it by “reversing tax cuts given to big banks” which they calculate will raise £4.3 billion a year. 

However, independent experts warn the policy is going to cost more than £2.7 billion. 

The King’s Fund welcomed the plan but cautioned “the true cost of reform will be much more than stated”. The Health Foundation estimated that introducing a Scottish-style model of ‘free personal care’ in England, similar to what the Liberal Democrats have suggested, could cost around £6 billion extra in 2026/27, rising to £7 billion by 2035/36.

When questioned about the policy yesterday on Newsnight [25:27] Sarah Olney, the Lib Dem treasury and business and industrial strategy spokesperson, said: “We are, I think, the only party that is really coming forward with a serious plan for social care”, adding: “We will be bringing forward our manifesto, obviously, in due course, it will be a fully costed manifesto.” 

Image courtesy of members.parliament.uk 

5 June 2024, 1.03pm

Conservatives' ‘£2,000 tax rise’ claim was not solely based on Treasury costings

Rishi Sunak’s claim that Labour is planning tax rises of £2,000 per family dominated the front pages this morning, but that figure is now facing fresh scrutiny after the publication of a letter from a senior Treasury official. In last night’s TV debate, Mr Sunak claimed that “independent Treasury officials have costed Labour's policies and they amount to a £2,000 tax rise for every working family”. 

We are working on a full fact check of this figure, but Mr Sunak’s claim that it comes from independent Treasury officials is not entirely accurate and therefore misleading. 

The figure comes from a Conservative document called ‘Labour’s Tax Rises’ which looked at a list of Labour policies and calculated the difference between estimates for Labour’s “spending commitments” and “revenue raisers”. It then divided this by the number of working households to arrive at around £2,000. Many of the figures used by the Conservatives as part of these calculations do come from Treasury costings of opposition policies that were published earlier this year. But these Treasury estimates don’t “amount” to a £2,000 figure because some of the figures in the document come from other sources, and the Treasury was not involved in calculating the total figure.  

The Permanent Secretary for HM Treasury, James Bowler, wrote in a letter to Labour’s Darren Jones on 3 June that “civil servants were not involved in the production or presentation of the Conservative Party’s document ‘Labour’s Tax Rises’ or in the calculation of the total figure used”.

Mr Bowler went on to say “any costings derived from other sources or produced by other organisations should not be presented as having been produced by the Civil Service”. 

It’s also worth noting that while Treasury civil servants can be asked to do costings of opposition policies, these are usually based on assumptions from special advisers who are political appointees. The Institute for Government explains more about how this works here

Full Fact’s chief executive Chris Morris said: “It's clearly unacceptable to present your own analysis as conclusions of independent civil servants when it’s not. 

“Public trust in politics is hanging by a thread and a high-profile falsehood will turn even more people away from the democratic process. We want to see this corrected as soon as possible.”

Labour has rejected the Conservatives’ £2,000 figure, with Sir Keir Starmer describing the figure as “absolute garbage” in last night’s debate.

A Conservative party spokesperson told the BBC: “We were fair to Labour in the production of the Labour tax rise briefing note and used only clear Labour policies, their own costings or official HMT [HM Treasury] costings.”

Full Fact has contacted both the Conservative and Labour parties about this and will update here if they respond. 

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