Politics Live

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

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.

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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. 

4 June 2024, 11.47pm

First TV debate of 2024 general election: fact checked

We’ve just finished fact checking the first televised debate of the 2024 general election, which saw the Prime Minister and Conservative leader Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer go head-to-head.

The event took place on 4 June in front of a live audience in Salford, broadcast by ITV—you can watch it back on ITVX.

We’ve published an initial round-up of some of the claims we fact checked from the debate, covering tax, the NHS, education, defence, immigration and more. 

In the coming days we’ll be looking into a few more claims from tonight’s debate, as well as continuing to monitor the election campaign in the run-up to 4 July, ensuring you have access to information you can trust. Keep up to date on our website for the latest fact checks on candidates’ claims and explainers on key topics. 

4 June 2024, 5.00pm

We’ll be fact checking tonight’s ITV Sunak V Starmer debate

Right now, Full Fact is getting ready to live fact check the very first head-to-head TV debate between Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer. 

We’ll be following tonight’s debate live, holding both politicians to account in real time and making sure voters have access to information they can trust. 

Once the debate is underway, our team of fact checkers will be monitoring claims with the help of our AI tools. We’re a small team, so it’s not possible for us to check every single claim, but if we can publish a quick verdict, we will.

With the live programme set to kick off at 9pm, you can follow our updates on X (formerly Twitter) here. You can get involved too—please tag the @FullFact account if there’s a claim you think we should be looking at. 

4 June 2024, 4.17pm

Rishi Sunak repeats incorrect claim that Conservatives are cutting taxes by £900 for ‘everyone in work’

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told the Daily Express yesterday that the Conservatives are “now cutting people’s taxes by £900 for everyone in work”. As we’ve written several times before, this is incorrect. 

Mr Sunak appears to be referring to the combined impact of the reduction in National Insurance contributions (NICs) from 10% to 8% introduced in April 2024 and the previous reduction from 12% to 10% introduced in January.

But each of these two reductions are worth savings of around £450 for a worker on the average salary (about £35,000). 

According to the Treasury, £900 is the combined impact of both these NIC reductions—but crucially only for “the average employee on £35,400 in 2024-25”, not “everyone in work” as Mr Sunak said. Some will save less and others more.

Beyond this, Mr Sunak’s claim is missing further important context. 

While a worker on the average salary will see their NIC payments reduced by £900 in 2024/25, this doesn’t take into account the impact of other tax changes, such as ongoing freezes to the thresholds at which NI and income tax are paid. 

The Institute for Fiscal Studies says that once the impact of all tax changes are taken into account, the average worker will be about £340 better off in 2024/25 and those earning below £26,000 will actually be worse off.

This claim was identified by Full Fact’s own AI tools which you can find more information about on our website

4 June 2024, 4.13pm

Clip supposedly showing Wes Streeting call Diane Abbott a ‘silly woman’ has been edited

A video that supposedly shows Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting calling Diane Abbott a “silly woman” has been shared on X (formerly Twitter). But the original episode includes no such comment and the “silly woman” audio seems to have been added artificially. 

The clip comes from an episode of the BBC’s Politics Live programme broadcast yesterday (3 June). In the versions being shared on social media, the presenter Jo Coburn refers to a social media post by Ms Abbott, which is shown on the screen, and a voice can be heard saying “silly woman”. 

One account sharing the clip said: “Wes Streeting calls Diane Abbott a ‘silly woman’ on Politics Live. You can clearly hear the microphone pick it up”, while another says: “This man needs to be sacked”. 

But no such remark can be heard in the actual episode on BBC iPlayer [26:30]. Mr Streeting said on X: “A fake video is circulating from Politics Live today. It contains words I did not use. People can check the original footage on iPlayer, but so far it has only fooled the gullible.”

The clip shows part of a discussion about a now-deleted X post from Ms Abbott’s account sharing an Observer article headlined “Starmer on Abbott: ‘I’ve actually got more respect for Diane than she probably realises’” with the caption “more lies from Starmer”. 

After the tweet was shown on Politics Live, Mr Streeting said: “I don’t know if it was Diane that sent that tweet or whether it was someone mistakenly tweeting. The fact it was deleted says quite a lot”. 

Ms Abbott said on 2 June that she intends to stand as a Labour candidate following an internal dispute about whether she would be able to stand for the party at the general election. 

We’ve previously written about many edited clips appearing to show politicians saying or doing things that they haven’t. 

This article was amended on 10 June to correct a misspelling of Ms Abbott's name. We apologise for the error.

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3 June 2024, 4.47pm

No evidence to support Nigel Farage’s claim that small boat arrivals get new iPhones within 24 hours

In a speech during a Reform UK general election event on 28 May, Nigel Farage appeared to claim that people arriving in the UK on small boats get new iPhones within 24 hours of arrival.

Mr Farage was the party’s honorary president, but has today announced he will stand for election and become leader of Reform UK.

He said: “I’ve filmed […] people throwing their iPhones into the sea, throwing their passports into the sea, doing everything they can so we can’t track and identify them. Although it’s okay, because they get an iPhone, a new one, within 24 hours of arrival.”

It’s unclear what this claim about people getting a new iPhone is based on. 

Full Fact investigated a similar claim back in February and we found that the Home Office does not generally provide asylum seekers with phones, though there have been some exceptions.

Around 14,000 mobile phones were reportedly given to asylum seekers during the pandemic as immigration staff were unable to interview individuals face to face because of Covid-19 restrictions. However, this was a temporary measure.

Asylum seekers do not receive phones as part of their standard support package from the Home Office, though a number of charities do provide donated phones to new arrivals to make it easier for them to contact solicitors and monitor the progress of their claims. 

This means it’s possible some asylum seekers could end up with iPhones, though we’ve not seen any specific reports of this. If so, the phones are unlikely to be new as phones donated by charities appear to be typically second-hand, and donated phones are not available to everyone. 

We asked Reform UK for a source or evidence to support the claim, and we will update this blog if we get a response.

Image courtesy of Tron Le

3 June 2024, 1.05pm

Labour still confusing the number of people and cases on NHS waiting lists

The Labour candidate for High Peak in Derbyshire, Jon Pearce, has said there are “nearly 8 million people on NHS waiting lists”, in a post on X (formerly Twitter) that has also been shared by the shadow ministers Wes Streeting and Jonathan Reynolds.

As we’ve said many times before, including when Mr Streeting made a similar claim last week, this is not what NHS data shows. There are actually about 6.3 million people in the most recently published referral to treatment (RTT) data for NHS England, which is what claims about ”NHS waiting lists” or “the waiting list” usually refer to.

There are about 7.5 million cases on the RTT list, which may well be what Mr Pearce was talking about.

There are always more cases than people in the NHS data, because some people are awaiting treatment for more than one thing—although the estimated number of people wasn’t published until November 2023. Now that it is, we think politicians and the media should use the correct figure.

An important caveat here is that there are several different kinds of waiting list, so the RTT data doesn’t include everyone waiting for anything.

In April, the Office of National Statistics published the results of a survey, which suggested that almost 10 million adults in England were waiting for something on the NHS. 

We’ve approached Mr Pearce, Mr Streeting and Mr Reynolds for comment. 

2 June 2024, 3.36pm

Was the health secretary right to claim ‘we’re living longer’?

Another claim that the health secretary Victoria Atkins made on the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme this morning, when asked  why waiting lists have risen since 2010, was that “we’re living longer”.

While over the long term, life expectancy has increased, the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures don’t show it’s risen since 2010. (This was pointed out on the programme in a ‘Fact check’ section at the end.)

Between 2010 and 2012, life expectancy at birth for females was 82.57 years. This peaked at 83.01 years between 2017 and 2019, but fell back to 82.57 years in the most recent data.

For men, it’s actually fallen slightly, from 78.70 years in 2010 to 2012, to 78.57 in the most recent data (for 2020 to 2022). 

We’ve asked the Conservatives about Ms Atkins’s claim and what she was referring to and will update our liveblog if we hear back.

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