ITV Conservative leadership debate: fact checked

17 July 2022
What was claimed

As chancellor, Rishi Sunak raised taxes to the highest level in 70 years.

Our verdict

Correct. The OBR estimates that in 2023/24, taxes will account for 36% of GDP, the highest level since 1949.

What was claimed

Tom Tugendhat didn’t vote for the rise in the rate of National Insurance.

Our verdict

Correct. Mr Tugendhat abstained from the vote, while the other leadership candidates all voted for the rise in National Insurance.

What was claimed

Under Rishi Sunak’s plans, the UK is predicted to go into recession.

Our verdict

Neither the Bank of England nor the forecasts compiled by the Treasury have predicted a technical recession (two consecutive quarters of GDP contraction) this year, though at least one economic think tank has.

What was claimed

The Bank of England’s track record over 25 years of independence is that inflation has averaged 2%.

Our verdict

Correct, although inflation in May 2022 was much higher than this.

What was claimed

Covid-19 loan fraud has cost taxpayers £17 billion.

Our verdict

Incorrect. £17 billion is the total amount estimated by the government to have been lost from various loan schemes designed to support businesses during the pandemic, not just from fraud, which is estimated to account for £4.9 billion of that total.

The five remaining Conservative leadership candidates have taken part in a second debate to explain why they think they should be the next Prime Minister. 

During the ITV debate on Sunday 17 July, Kemi Badenoch, Penny Mordaunt, Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss and Tom Tugendhat answered questions on topics ranging from inflation, the economy and tax to gender self-identification.

Full Fact has been working to fact check the claims made by all five contenders. Here’s a closer look at some of the things they said. 

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The candidates have made various claims about cutting taxes in this campaign, but have not always been entirely clear about how much this would cost or how it would be paid for. This has drawn some criticism, including from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) which has called on the candidates to explain how they will pay for public spending if they cut taxes, and warned: “The levels of overall tax and spend cannot diverge indefinitely. 

“The question, then, must be: if you want to cut taxes and spending as a fraction of national income over the longer run, where are those cuts going to come from? Health? Pensions? Welfare? Schools?”

The IFS has also published a round-up of some of the proposals and how much they could cost

During the debate, Ms Truss claimed that former Chancellor Mr Sunak had “raised taxes to the highest level in 70 years”. This claim, which also came up in Friday’s debate on Channel 4, was one 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. 

At the time, others claimed taxes would rise to the highest-ever level, the highest in peacetime, since 1950, or since 1969—these varying claims were all based on slightly differing estimates for the predicted and historic tax burden. Since then, however, the Office for Budget Responsibility has updated its forecast and estimates that by 2023/24 taxes will account for 36% of GDP, the highest level since 1949.

Elsewhere, Mr Tugendhat noted (again, as he did on Friday) 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.

The economy 

Ms Truss also said that under Mr Sunak’s plans we are predicted to have a recession. However, GDP forecasts are less clear.

The Bank of England forecasts the economy to contract almost 1% between October and December but to grow at the start of 2023, which would mean avoiding two consecutive quarters of falling GDP (the technical definition of a recession). 

Other forecasts have differing views. None of the independent forecasts compiled by HM Treasury predict a technical recession in Q2 and Q3 this year, though these forecasts don’t go beyond Q3. But the most recent overview of fiscal risks published by the Office for Budget Responsibility does say the country is at risk of recession. And the National Institute of Economic and Social Research forecasts a technical recession in Q2 and Q3 this year.

When questioned about inflation, Mr Sunak said: “The Bank of England’s track record over 25 years of independence is that inflation has averaged 2%.” 

This is correct looking over the whole period, even though inflation is much higher now. Inflation in May 2022 stood at 7.9%, but from May 1997 to May 2022, inflation averaged 2%.

The cost of fraud associated with the Covid-19 loan schemes also featured in the debate, when Ms Badenoch questioned Mr Sunak. She said: “When we both worked in the Treasury, myself and other ministers raised the issue of Covid loan fraud. You dismissed us, and it has cost taxpayers £17 billion.” 

£17 billion is the total amount estimated by the government to have been lost from various loan schemes designed to support businesses during the pandemic.

Fraud is estimated to account for £4.9 billion of that total, with much of it lost in “good faith”, such as by businesses who were unable to repay the loans.

Gender self-identification

The topic of gender self-identification—allowing people to legally change their gender without requiring medical approval—has been hotly contested during the leadership contest so far, and the ITV debate was no exception.

In a clash with Ms Mordaunt, Ms Badenoch said: “When I took on the role of equalities minister, we had to change the existing government policy that previous ministers had put in place. And what I challenged Penny [Mordaunt] on is what that policy was.”We’ve yet to look at this in detail, but the exchange followed claims from Ms Mordaunt prior to the debate that she has “never supported self-ID”. We have not been able to find evidence that shows conclusively whether Ms Mordaunt has ever supported gender self-identification in the past.

Ms Mordaunt’s record has been under intense scrutiny in recent days. For example, a story in the Mail on Sunday, also covered in the Sunday Times, has claimed that a leaked document refers to “ministerial agreement around removing the need for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria” when Ms Mordaunt was equalities minister and the rules were being reconsidered, in July 2019.

However, the document also reportedly says that Ms Mordaunt said “some form of medical requirement” should remain—although this might only be in the form of a “sound mind” test. 

We’ve not verified either of the above stories or the document referred to. But in reply to Ms Badenoch today—though not explicitly referring to the stories mentioned above—Ms Mordaunt said: “The stuff in the papers today demonstrates what my policy was, and refutes this.”Under the rules as it stands now, most people who want to legally change their gender do need a diagnosis, and cannot self-identify.

Composite image uses photos of MPs from under an Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0) licence

Update 10 March 2023

This piece was updated to add claim and conclusion boxes.

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