NHS Test and Trace has not spent as much as war in Afghanistan yet

26 August 2021
What was claimed

The cost of 20 years in Afghanistan was only 59% of the cost of NHS Test and Trace.

Our verdict

MoD estimates for the military costs of being in Afghanistan from 2002 onwards are around £27.7 billion. The total budget for Test and Trace for its first two years is £37 billion.

A Facebook post claims that the cost of 20 years in Afghanistan came to 59% of the cost of the NHS Covid-19 Test and Trace system.

This seems to be comparing the military cost to the UK up to 2014 with the total budget for two years of the Track and Trace programme, which hasn’t all been spent yet.   

While the post doesn’t specify whether spending in Afghanistan refers to international or just the UK’s spending, because the comparison is with a UK health programme we will assume it is referring to the UK’s deployment bill. 

How much did UK military intervention in Afghanistan cost?

According to the House of Commons Library, Operations Herrick (British military operations in Afghanistan conducted from 2002 to 2014) and Toral (the UK operation in the country as part of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission after 2014) cost around £27.7 billion in 2021 prices. These are reported in terms of net additional costs, meaning costs above those that the Ministry of Defence would have incurred if the conflict hadn’t happened.

It’s not clear exactly how much was spent between October 2001, when the UK first had a military presence in Afghanistan, and the start of Operation Herrick, although the House of Commons Library says “the cost of initial operations in Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002 was between £300-400 million.” 

Experts have suggested that spending, looking beyond these net additional costs, may have been higher still. This also doesn’t include other elements of UK spending in Afghanistan such as aid spending, which has come to over £3 billion between 2002 and 2021.

NHS Test and Trace cost £13.5 billion up to April 2021 of an available budget of £22.2 billion in its first year. 

As we’ve written before, NHS Test and Trace is not just the NHS Covid-19 app. It also covers testing services, ‘contain’ activities (including identifying local outbreaks and supporting local responses to the pandemic), and tracing services.

Where did the 59% figure come from?

The claim may be based on confusion around the budget for the first two years of Test and Trace, which is £37 billion. This £37 billion sum is the amount allocated to Test and Trace over two years, not the total spent so far. We have fact checked this on a number of occasions

59% of that figure is £22.2 billion, which is about how much was spent on Operation Herrick from 2002 to 2014.

Operation Toral cost an average of £90 million per year after 2014.

This article is part of our work fact checking potentially false pictures, videos and stories on Facebook. You can read more about this—and find out how to report Facebook content—here. For the purposes of that scheme, we’ve rated this claim as missing context because it compares military spending up to 2014 with the two year budget for Test and Trace.

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