Channel 4 Conservative leadership debate: fact checked

15 July 2022

The first TV debate of the 2022 Conservative leadership race has taken place on Channel 4 on Friday 15 July, with the contenders to be the next prime minister setting out their plans for how they would run the country.

Kemi Badenoch, Penny Mordaunt, Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss and Tom Tugendhat shared their views on taxes, the cost of living, the NHS, gender identity and more.

We’ve taken a closer look at some of the things they said. 

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Tax

Tax has been a focus of the first week of the leadership campaign, with many of the candidates pledging to cut them. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has published a round-up of some of the proposals and how much they could cost

In the Channel 4 debate, Mr Tugendhat said taxes are rising to the highest level in 70 years. This is a claim we saw reported last year, including by The Times, based on forecasts of what the National Insurance rise would mean for the overall tax burden. Others claimed taxes would rise to the highest-ever level, the highest in peacetime, since 1950, or since 1969

As we wrote at the time, these varying claims were all based on slightly differing estimates for the predicted and historic tax burden. And of course, the picture may have changed since, with for example the government more recently increasing the amount an employee can earn before they start paying National Insurance

Tax was also a key topic for Ms Mordaunt, who said that her pledge to halve VAT on fuel would save the average family £10 every time they fill up. That appears slightly too high an estimate. The RAC has previously referred to filling up a 55 litre fuel tank when talking about the cost of fuel for an average family car. This would cost about £8.80 less to fill with unleaded petrol under Ms Mordaunt’s plan.

Ms Mordaunt also claimed that she has “not done what other candidates have done and said that I'll reduce a load of taxes including National Insurance”. After being challenged on that by Mr Sunak, she acknowledged that she has said she would reduce some taxes—not only cutting VAT on fuel, but also increasing the income tax threshold. However, she has signalled that, unlike some of her competitors, she would not reverse the recent 1.25 percentage point increase to National Insurance. 

Mr Tugendhat noted that he was the only one of the leadership hopefuls who did not vote for the rise in National Insurance. While this is true, he abstained rather than voted against the increase. 

Cost of living

The rise in the cost of living was also a key topic of the debate. 

Ms Truss claimed that removing green levies would knock “around £150” off energy bills.

“Green levies” is a term sometimes used broadly to refer to “environmental and social obligation costs”, which fund a range of policies—not just “green” policies , but also the Warm Home Discount, a social policy which offers rebates on energy bills to low-income households.

According to Ofgem, environmental and social obligation costs account for around £153 of an average direct debit energy bill under the current price cap. It told us in May that about £95 of that amount goes towards “environmental only” policies.

Mr Sunak pointed out that this year many households will benefit from a £1,200 cost of living payment, and claimed that bills were rising by the same amount, “give or take”. 

It’s not clear exactly what that figure was based on. It is correct that the Ofgem energy bill price cap for those on direct debits is expected to rise from the current £1,971 to up to £3,244 in October. But it’s worth noting this is only one of a number of consecutive rises in energy bills which have already taken place or are predicted. 

There was a 54% rise in the price cap in April 2022 which previously increased prices by around £700, a previous rise in October 2021 and a further smaller rise is currently forecast for January 2023.

Health

Finally, while a number of exchanges on the NHS focused on waiting lists, treatment backlogs and funding, the claim which attracted most curiosity online was when Ms Mordaunt said: “The top 180 innovations that we have had. How many are used in the NHS? None." 

Her campaign has also published this quote twice on Twitter with no further information, prompting hundreds of retweets and replies, with some questioning what her claim was referring to.

Unfortunately we’ve not been immediately able to find any information about the 180 innovations Ms Mordaunt described, and it’s unclear what types of innovations she was referring to. We have contacted her campaign team to ask, but have yet to receive a response. 

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