New session of Parliament: live blog

Last updated: 22 May 2024

Full Fact’s rolling live blog of political fact checks

13 December 2023, 3.33pm

Sir Keir Starmer confuses NHS waiting list figures again

On BBC Breakfast yesterday morning, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said “we’ve got 7.7 million people on NHS waiting lists”. 

This is not what NHS England data shows, as we’ve previously pointed out to Mr Starmer and various other politicians

There are actually around 6.5 million individual patients waiting for NHS treatment in England. 

But because some patients are waiting for more than one type of treatment to start, there are around 7.8 million treatment pathways that haven’t yet been completed. 

For a long time it’s been common to describe the number of cases on the main NHS England waiting list as the number of “people” waiting. But some people are waiting for more than one thing, so this was never quite right.

Then, in November, for the first time official data began to include an estimate for the number of individuals waiting. Both people and cases were at record highs—but now that we have an actual number for each, we think it’s important to use the correct one.

Over the last month or so we’ve seen these figures confused a number of times, both by politicians and media outlets. We’ve written about this here.

While Mr Starmer is yet to respond to us, we’re grateful to Labour’s Liz Kendall, Dame Angela Eagle, Tulip Siddiq and Rachael Maskell, who have all agreed to stop making claims that use the 7.8 million figure to refer to the number of people on NHS waiting lists in England. 

13 December 2023, 2.09pm

PM’s claim about rough sleeping missing important context

At Prime Minister’s Questions today, Rishi Sunak said that “rough sleeping in this country is down by 35% … thanks to the efforts of this government”. 

Official estimates suggest the number of people sleeping rough in England has fallen by 35% since its peak in 2017, but is up 74% since 2010, as the government itself points out in its latest statistics.

This rough sleeping data is based on a ‘snapshot survey’ conducted on a single night in autumn, which began in 2010. Data for 2023’s survey is due to be published in February 2024. 

It’s unclear what time period Mr Sunak intended to refer to when he said “this government”, but his figures don’t match the change seen since the current Conservative government was elected in 2019. The snapshot data shows the number of people sleeping rough fell by 28% between 2019 and 2022, the latest year we have data for. 

Since the Conservatives first entered government in coalition with the Liberal Democrats in 2010, the number of those sleeping rough in England has gone from 1,768 to 3,069—up 74%. And since 2015, when the Conservatives formed a majority government, numbers have decreased by about 10%. 

In addition to the government’s snapshot survey, there are a number of other ways that people sleeping rough are counted—the Big Issue has a useful summary here

12 December 2023, 4.48pm

Disagreement at Covid-19 Inquiry on UK’s excess deaths doesn’t mean data was wrong

Richard Tice, Reform UK leader, on BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions on Friday, said that the lead counsel for the Covid-19 Inquiry presented “data on international comparisons” that “was completely and utterly wrong”. We don’t know exactly what data Mr Tice was referring to, although we’ve contacted him to ask, but it’s possible he had in mind an exchange between former PM Boris Johnson and Hugo Keith KC, which we wrote about last week

During Mr Johnson’s evidence to the Inquiry, Mr Johnson and Mr Keith appeared to disagree about how badly the UK was affected by the pandemic, relative to other countries, and each used a different source to support their point.

There are different ways of presenting international comparisons of excess deaths during the pandemic, and, broadly, both Mr Johnson’s and Mr Keith’s claims were supported by (different) evidence. 

Mr Johnson was correct to say that the UK ranked roughly in the middle of a table of all European countries in terms of excess deaths during the pandemic. And Mr Keith, clarifying that he was referring specifically to western Europe, was right to suggest that the UK was one of the worst performing countries in that group.  

Read more in our fact check here. We’ve written round ups of claims made during the pandemic by former health secretary Matt Hancock and Mr Johnson. Current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also appeared before the Inquiry yesterday.

7 December 2023, 9.32am

More Full Fact wins: MPs take action on waiting list claims

We are grateful to Labour’s Liz Kendall and Dame Angela Eagle, the latest MPs to agree to stop making claims that confuse the number of people on NHS waiting lists and the number of treatments they are waiting for.

Ms Kendall amended an article on her website about the health of the nation, and Dame Angela’s office told Full Fact that in future the MP will clarify the difference between the two measures.

We’ve written about this several times recently, now that we have data showing the number of individuals waiting for NHS treatment in England, alongside the longer-running figures on the number of ‘treatment pathways’ that people are waiting for. This number is higher, as some individuals are waiting for more than one thing. 

Following contact from Full Fact, MPs Tulip Siddiq and Rachael Maskell, as well as The Times and The Independent, have also acted to correct their communications about NHS waiting lists.

6 December 2023, 4.35pm

How many immigrants arrived in the UK in the last two years?

We’ve seen a couple of claims over the last week on the subject of migration. 

Looking at the recent past, The Sun said the government “handed visas to 1.3 million legal migrants in just two years”, and Sir John Hayes MP said in Parliament “that 1.3 million migrants over a period of two years is a catastrophe for Britain is obvious to everyone”. 

This 1.3 million figure refers to net migration—the difference between the number of people who have immigrated to the UK, and those who have emigrated. 

If we look at the number of those who actually immigrated to the UK during this time, we can see that in the two years to June 2023 nearly 2.3 million people arrived in the UK.

Because 979,000 people left, the overall difference in the population due to migration over the last two years—the net migration—is 1.3 million. 

The government has since announced plans to reduce net migration. In a post about the government’s new plans, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said “We’ve just announced the biggest ever cut in net migration”. 

This reduction has not yet happened. Some of the proposed changes to the system are due to come in from “next spring”. Over the last two years, net migration has been at “the highest level we have seen”, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Read more in our fact check here.

6 December 2023, 3.57pm

How many men are in prison?

During today's Prime Minister’s Questions, Conservative MP Nick Fletcher said 90,000 men are waking up in prison every day

Prisons are devolved, so the UK government is only responsible for overseeing them in England and Wales. However since we first published this post Mr Fletcher has told us the figure he used referred to the number of prisoners across the whole of the United Kingdom, and this appears to be broadly correct.

As of 1 December 2023, Ministry of Justice figures show there were 84,279 men being held in the prison estate in England and Wales. In addition to that there were 3,612 women, bringing the total to 87,891. This is a substantial rise on the total population of 82,896 12 months ago.

We don’t have precisely comparable figures for Scotland and Northern Ireland, but those we have been able to find suggest the total male UK prison population may be somewhere between 93,000 and 94,000. As of 24 November 2023, there were 7,654 men in prison in Scotland, while the average daily male prison population in Northern Ireland in 2022/23 was 1,607

Update 4pm 8 December: We’ve updated this post after receiving a reply from Mr Fletcher and thank him for clarifying his comments.

6 December 2023, 9.37am

Boris Johnson’s pandemic claims revisited

Today, former Prime Minister Boris Johnson will appear before the Covid-19 Inquiry.

In the years since the start of the pandemic, Full Fact has fact checked Mr Johnson many times.

This included incorrect claims about what government advice on care homes did and did not say and on who was entitled to extra self-isolation support.

We looked at Mr Johnson’s claims about testing which weren’t supported by the data available and whether any country had a functioning contact tracing app.

We also repeatedly fact checked incorrect claims from Mr Johnson about the change in employment levels in the period following the pandemic.

In addition to fact checks we also tried to provide clarity amidst the confusion regarding a reported ‘back to work’ campaign in autumn 2020, including comments from Mr Johnson.

At the start of 2023 we fact checked a misleading claim from the former PM that the UK wouldn't have been able to approve the Covid-19 vaccines as quickly as it did without Brexit. We also fact checked a number of ministers making a similar claim during the pandemic.

More recently we’ve looked again at claims on life expectancy made in a series of 2020 WhatsApp messages by Mr Johnson. These were discussed at the Inquiry in October.

4 December 2023, 5.04pm

Confusion on the BBC and in the Lords over people on waiting lists

Two peers confused the 7.8 million cases awaiting NHS treatment in England with the number of people waiting (about 6.5 million), during a debate in the House of Lords last Thursday.

The BBC News journalist Laura Kuenssberg also made the same mistake in an article at the weekend. (And the health secretary Victoria Atkins pointed this out when it came up on Ms Kuenssberg’s show [13:40].)

This error has been everywhere recently. We’ve written about it several times, including in this article last week.

For a long time it’s been common to describe the number of cases on the main NHS England waiting list as the number of “people” waiting. But some people are waiting for more than one thing, so this was never quite right.

Then in November, for the first time, official data began to include an estimate for the number of individuals waiting. Both people and cases were at record highs—but now that we have an actual number for each, we think it’s important to use the correct one.

30 November 2023, 12.48pm

Fact checking Matt Hancock’s pandemic claims

Matt Hancock MP is giving evidence to the Covid-19 Inquiry today.

Full Fact published many articles about claims he made as health secretary at the height of the pandemic.

Among these, Mr Hancock denied saying that the government threw a “protective ring” around care homes during the early stages of the outbreak, when in fact he did say this several times.

He claimed that the National Audit Office said there was never a national PPE shortage, which was not really what the NAO actually said.

We wrote about his and the government’s patchy record on claiming to meet testing targets, and about incorrect claims he made on the speed of testing and the performance of contact tracing

And we also checked claims Mr Hancock made about the evidence on long Covid, about the suicide rate during lockdown, and about when “lockdown” really began.

29 November 2023, 3.18pm

Rishi Sunak’s claim about government’s record on poverty: fact checked

For the second week in a row during Prime Minister’s Questions, the PM Rishi Sunak said “1.7 million fewer people are living in poverty today than in 2010”.

As we’ve previously explained, this is correct based on one measure of poverty, but others offer a different picture.

Mr Sunak’s figure is based on the number of people in absolute poverty after housing costs, which has fallen by 1.7 million since 2009/10 according to the latest DWP figures published in March. Looking at another measure, the number in relative poverty after housing costs, however, is up by 900,000 over the same period.

We wrote more about the different ways of measuring poverty in this fact check about a different claim back in June.

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