Politics Live

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

28 May 2024, 6.11pm

MailOnline corrects column which misrepresented waiting list figures

Following an intervention by Full Fact, MailOnline has corrected an error in a Richard Littlejohn column which didn’t accurately reflect NHS waiting list data in England. 

The article originally repeated a familiar claim that there are more than seven million people awaiting some form of NHS treatment in England. But this figure refers to the number of treatments people are waiting for, not the number of individual patients. 

According to the latest referral to treatment (RTT) data, collected at the end of March 2024, about 6.3 million people were waiting to begin about 7.5 million courses of treatment.

The article has now been amended and we thank the Daily Mail for clarifying this point.

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28 May 2024, 1.05pm

Mel Stride’s claim about £900 ‘tax cut’ for workers doesn’t account for threshold freezes

On BBC Breakfast [1:38:45] and the Today programme [2:13:16] this morning, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Mel Stride repeated a claim that the government having reduced National Insurance contributions by one third “is worth a tax cut of £900 to an average earner”. 

As we have explained before, the £900 figure refers to savings from reductions to employee National Insurance contributions (NICs). In January the main rate for NICs was reduced from 12% to 10%, and in April it was lowered from 10% to 8%. 

It’s right that an employee on the average full-time salary (£35,400) will pay about £900 less in NICs due to the combined four percentage point reduction than they would have were the main rate to have stayed at 12%.

However, the £900 figure only relates to the specific impact of the reduction in NICs and Mr Stride’s claim would benefit from additional context. Other changes, such as ongoing freezes to the thresholds at which people begin paying NICs and income tax, mean the overall savings this year for someone on the average salary are substantially smaller.

Once the impact of all tax changes since 2021 are factored in, the Institute for Fiscal Studies says the average worker stands to save £340 in 2024/25, while those earning less than £26,000 a year will actually be worse off. 

The IFS adds: “By 2027–28, after another three years of real-terms cuts to tax thresholds, the net effect of income tax and NICs changes since 2021 for the average full-time earner will be a tax cut of £140 per year.”

28 May 2024, 10.28am

Conservatives respond on small boats ad claim

Yesterday we wrote about online election adverts from the Conservatives which claim “small boat crossings are coming down” and that “small boats [are] down 36%”. We said the figure was correct for the number of people who had crossed in small boats in 2023 compared to the year before, but doesn’t reflect the rise in crossings so far this year.

As of 26 May the number of people arriving via small boats so far this year was up 38% compared to the same period last year.

The Conservatives have now responded to our request for more information, telling us: “Small boat crossings were down by over a third last year, showing our bold action to stop the boats is working. Given the impact of weather conditions on small boats crossings, it is important to compare annual data rather than shorter periods which are often impacted by seasonal conditions.”

27 May 2024, 3.54pm

Sir Keir Starmer’s first major campaign speech, fact checked

This morning Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer addressed voters in West Sussex for his first keynote speech of the 2024 general election campaign, and took questions from the media afterwards. We’ve looked at several claims he made. 

Mr Starmer twice mentioned the amount spent on the government’s Rwanda policy, claiming that “it’s cost £600 million” and that the “Prime Minister has spent £600 million”. But part of this figure appears to refer to future costs, rather than the amount that has already been spent. 

A National Audit Office (NAO) report published in March found the Home Office will pay £370 million to the Rwandan government with a further £20,000 for every individual who is relocated and £120 million once 300 people have been relocated, as well as further processing and operational costs. 

Analysis of the NAO report by the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford estimated the total cost of relocating 500 people to Rwanda would be £625 million.

This does not include the possible financial implications for other government departments, or wider costs such as expanding detention facilities necessary to hold people before they are relocated.

We’ve contacted both Labour and the government about the £600 million figure and will update this blog if we receive a response. 

Mr Starmer also claimed in his speech that “chaos” under the Conservatives was “hitting every working family to the tune of £5,000”. 

It’s not clear where this £5,000 figure comes from—we’ve asked Labour.

We did see that figure referenced in a different way in a speech in March by shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves. She cited an estimate that the UK economy would have been £140 billion larger had it grown over the past decade in line with the average across the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development), and said this would have been equivalent to £5,000 per household.

If so, people being £5,000 worse off compared to a hypothetical scenario is not the same as people actually losing £5,000 in real terms, and it’s worth noting Mr Starmer’s claim was also about working families rather than households. So the figure may come from somewhere else entirely—we’ll update this blog if Labour comes back to us with more information. 

Mr Starmer also repeated a claim we’ve heard many times before—that the UK army is the smallest it has been since the Napoleonic Wars. 

As we’ve written in our explainer on the size of the UK’s armed forces, the present number of personnel in the British Army is comparable to the period shortly after the Napoleonic wars. That said, the data that far back is not entirely reliable and there are many different ways of counting serving personnel.

Finally, another claim made by Mr Stamer was that taxes are "higher than at any time since the war". We’ve seen versions of this claim a lot recently from Labour politicians, including shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves earlier this month and shadow education minister Bridget Phillipson on the BBC’s Today programme this morning [2:28:20].

While the so-called “tax burden”—which refers to tax revenues as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP)— was at the highest level in over 70 years in 2022/23, it fell slightly in 2023/24. The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has forecast that it will rise to near-record levels over the next five years. 

27 May 2024, 2.34pm

Small boat claims in Conservative ad don’t reflect rise in crossings this year

A Conservative online election advert that has been published widely on Facebook claims that “small boat crossings are coming down” and also puts a figure on it, saying “small boats down 36%”. That figure also appears in a slightly different graphic shared by the Conservative party on Facebook and circulating among users on X (formerly Twitter).

We’ve seen the 36% figure—which appears to compare small boat arrivals in 2023 vs 2022—before, and wrote about it earlier this month.

It is true that in 2023 small boat crossings were down year-on-year. Government figures show a total of 29,437 people arrived in the UK by small boat crossing that year, a 36% decrease compared to 2022, when 45,774 made the journey.

But these aren’t the most recent available figures on small boat crossings—and the figures for crossings so far in 2024 show the numbers are higher than they were for the same period in 2023. 

As of 26 May there have been 10,448 people recorded arriving via small boats in 2024. That’s a 38% increase compared to the same period in the year before. It’s worth noting that these daily figures are provisional however, so may be updated as time goes on.

Update—the Conservatives have now responded to our questions about this claim—see their response.

26 May 2024, 3.09pm

Knife crime, army numbers, GDP growth and more: the Sunday politics shows, fact checked

It may be a bank holiday weekend, but politicians from different parties have been busy setting out their stalls on TV today, on the flagship Sunday politics shows.

On Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg, asked about figures showing a 7% rise in knife crime in England and Wales in the year to December 2023, Conservative home secretary James Cleverly claimed if London were excluded “that figure would be down”. 

But, even when excluding London, the Office for National Statistics figures do still show a (smaller) rise of 2.5%.

We’ve asked the Conservatives about Mr Cleverly’s comments and haven’t yet had a response—we’ll update this post when we get one. But we think it’s possible he was referring to figures for the year to September 2023, rather than the year to December 2023 (which is the period he was asked about).

That’s because Mr Cleverly also said knife crime was up 22% in London, which matches data for the year to September 2023 but not for the year to December 2023, when it rose by 20%. And in the year to September 2023, knife crime rose by 5% across England and Wales, but did fall by 0.5% excluding London. 

Elsewhere in the interview Mr Cleverly claimed: “We took the decisions to come out of lockdown, which meant that our economy is growing faster than most of our international comparators.”

As we explained when we fact checked a similar claim last week, the latest quarterly figures do show the UK’s GDP growth was higher than most other G7 countries, but other measures paint a different picture. In particular, given Mr Cleverly appeared to link the UK’s growth to coming out of lockdown, it’s worth noting the UK economy has actually grown more slowly since immediately before the pandemic than most other G7 countries.

Also on Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg, Labour shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said “the tax burden is at a 70-year high”.

As we explained when Ms Reeves made a similar claim earlier this month, that was the case in 2022/23. The so-called ‘tax burden’—which refers to tax revenues as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP)—has since fallen slightly, but is forecast to rise over the next five years to a near-record level.

Meanwhile on Sky News, while discussing the Conservatives’ headline-grabbing plans for all 18-year olds to do a year of national service, the honorary president of Reform UK Nigel Farage claimed “the army has shrunk from 100,000 to 75,000 in 14 years”.

This actually slightly understates the fall in the size of the UK Army Regular Forces since 2010. The number of UK Army Regular Forces personnel (trained and untrained) fell from about 109,000 in 2010 to about 75,000 in 2023, though there are many different ways of counting serving personnel.

24 May 2024, 6.21pm

What is happening to energy prices?

With candidates out on the campaign trail today, both major parties are putting energy prices in the spotlight. 

The Conservatives have pledged to make energy price comparison sites easier to use and are considering asking the regulator Ofgem to publish a league table of suppliers, ranking them on their responsiveness to complaints. 

Labour, meanwhile, has pledged to set up ‘Great British Energy’—a publicly owned company focused on clean energy. 

At a campaign event in Belfast Rishi Sunak said today’s energy price cap announcement showed the economy had “turned a corner”. 

From July the energy price cap—the maximum price that can be charged per unit of gas and electricity—will be set at a level which means a typical household using both electricity and gas and paying by direct debit will pay an average of £1,568 a year. That’s a fall of £122 compared to the current price cap set in April. (The consumer website MoneySavingExpert has a full breakdown of the figures.)

Energy bills are currently at their lowest level since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

However analysts at Cornwall Insight have forecast that the drop may only be temporary, suggesting that prices will increase again from October—equating to a price cap of £1,762 a year for a typical household—and will remain around this level from January 2025. 

It’s worth noting that the Typical Domestic Consumption Value—on which Ofgem’s figures for a “typical household” are based—has dropped since August 2023, when Ofgem reduced its estimates partly due to increased household efficiency, but also because people were cutting their energy use in response to high prices. 

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24 May 2024, 5.08pm

Experts say Government not on track to deliver 40 new hospitals

Yesterday the MailOnline reported: “The Tories have stuck to their vow to build 40 new hospitals by 2030, which was promised before the 2019 general election.”

It’s true that the Conservative party has committed to this policy, we have written about it several times since the last election. However, a number of experts have said it is unlikely to be fully realised.

In a report into the 40 hospitals plan in July 2023 the National Audit Office said that “by the definition the government used in 2020, it will not now deliver 40 new hospitals by 2030.” 

In November 2023, the Public Accounts Committee stated it had “no confidence” that the Government would deliver the new hospitals it promised, suggesting it would struggle to reach even 32 by the end of the decade.

In 2020, the Department of Health and Social Care named and gave details on 32 of the new hospital sites. But by October 2023, none had been opened.

Speaking in Parliament on 23 May, health secretary Victoria Atkins reiterated the target of 40 and gave an update on progress. She said “Through our new hospital programme, we have committed to delivering 40 new hospitals by 2030. I am pleased to tell the House that six hospitals are now open to patients, two more are expected to open by the end of the financial year and 18 more are in construction.”

Since the plans were first announced in 2019, the government has faced questions over its definition of “new hospitals”.

Using this definition, the BBC in 2022 found that the 40 confirmed new hospitals include:

  • 22 rebuilding projects
  • 12 new wings within existing hospitals
  • three non-urgent care hospital rebuilds
  • three “new hospitals” (two general hospitals and one non-urgent care hospital)

24 May 2024, 4.33pm

Net migration decreased last year, but remains higher than at the start of this Parliament

In a post on X (formerly Twitter) yesterday Rishi Sunak claimed: “Since I became Prime Minister, net migration has fallen by 10%.” 

A ‘community note’ (which Twitter describes as “empowering people on [the platform] to collaboratively add context to potentially misleading posts”) appears under it.

Mr Sunak’s claim is true, though it may be helpful to have some extra context.

Data published this week by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows estimated net migration—the difference in the number of people immigrating to the UK and emigrating—was 685,000 in the year to December 2023. This is a fall of approximately 10% from the ONS’s updated estimate of 764,000 for the year to December 2022. 

That said, despite this decrease, net migration is still nearly four times higher than in 2019, when the Conservative party said it would bring “overall numbers” down in its manifesto

Estimated total immigration in the year to December 2023 decreased slightly compared to the previous year, from 1,257,000 to 1,218,000. However it has increased by almost 55% since December 2019, when it was 788,000. 

The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford notes that net migration “remained at unusually high levels” in 2023, continuing to exceed “pre-Brexit, pre-Covid levels of roughly 200,000 to 300,000” a year. However it said a “sharp drop in visa grants early this year and an increase in student emigration hint at the start of a long-expected fall in net migration”.

Other parties such as Reform UK also discussed the new net migration statistics as general election campaigns got into full swing. 

Reform’s leader Richard Tice also said net migration levels were equivalent to “a city well bigger than the size of Manchester”. The 2021 census recorded Manchester’s population as 551,900, compared to the net migration estimate of 685,000 in the year to December 2023.

24 May 2024, 2.20pm

How do the Labour and Conservative records on building nuclear power stations compare?

On LBC this morning [55.57 mins], energy secretary Claire Coutinho claimed that “Labour did not build any [nuclear power stations] in their time in government”. 

This statement is true—but as we wrote when she made the same claim earlier this month, it would benefit from additional context.

As Ms Coutinho said in her interview today, nuclear power plants take years to plan and build. 

The last new nuclear power station, Sizewell B, was first announced in 1969 but didn’t begin operating until 1995.

So while no new power stations were completed between 1997 and 2010 under the last Labour government, neither have any been finished since the Conservatives came into office in 2010.

Two sites—Hinkley Point C in Somerset and Sizewell C in Suffolk—have been granted licences since 2010, but it’s worth noting these sites were proposed under plans drawn up by the last Labour government

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