Prime Minister's Questions, factchecked

15th Mar 2017

“Average working families” and the Budget

“According to IFS figures, average working families will be £1,400 worse off as a result of her Budget that’s been produced last week”.

Jeremy Corbyn, 15 March 2017

There was only one new change to personal taxes and benefits in last week’s Budget.

It was the change to National Insurance Contributions for self-employed people and it’s since been reversed.

So we’ve asked Labour what Mr Corbyn was referring to.

He may have been talking about Institute for Fiscal Studies analysis of the long-term impact of every single change to tax and benefits set to happen between 2015 and 2020.

The IFS suggests that working-age households with children will on average end up with around £1,300 less each year.

That’s not necessarily what most people would think of as “average working families”. It’s an average of all working-age households, from the poorest to the richest, ignoring whether anyone in the house is actually employed.

Similarly, the average one-earner couple with children stands to lose around £1,400. But again, it doesn’t matter how much they earn and we’re only talking about one kind  of “working family”.

Families where both parents work or lone parents, for example, will be affected very differently.

Trade-offs: local councils face choices about adult social care funding

We have a budget that falls most heavily on those with the least broad shoulders… cuts to social care... that is the agenda of her government and everybody knows it.”

Jeremy Corbyn, 15 March 2017

“...this budget delivers £2 billion more funding for social care.”

Theresa May. 15 March 2017

Adult social care funding is 5% lower now (after than adjusting for inflation) it was in 2010, when the Coalition government came into power.

So is it set to go up or down from here?

Ultimately, the decision will be up to local councils.

It’s true that last week’s Budget gave another £2 billion to English councils to spend on adult social care services over the next three years.

To put that in context, £16.4 billion was spent on adult social care last year.

Councils will get a £1 billion boost next year, £0.7 billion more the year after and £0.3 billion in 2019/20.

In theory, the government has ring-fenced this money for extra spending on adult social care.

But in practice, councils could just use the extra funding to free up money for other services.

So whether adult social care funding goes up or down depends on what councils decide to do.

If councils put all the extra funding into social care next year then spending on adult social care will rise 11% by the end of this parliament, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies think tank.

If they spread it evenly between their services then spending would fall by 2.1%.

It’s a trade-off that each council has to make. The IFS expects most councils to pick a path somewhere in between the two extremes.

Will there be half a trillion pounds of borrowing under Labour?

“If he looks ahead to what his policies would produce for this country: half a trillion pounds of borrowing, £500 billion pounds more borrowing under the Labour party”

Theresa May, 15 March 2017

It goes without saying that this claim alone doesn’t give us any real indication of what would happen to borrowing under a future Labour government. The party hasn’t said it plans to borrow this much anyway, and as Jeremy Corbyn said this week “our programme is not complete”.

Mrs May appears to be referring to Labour’s recent plans for investment spending, although we’ve seen similar claims to this several years ago as well. The Shadow Chancellor announced last summer:

“Today I am making a firm pledge: on coming to power, Labour will set up a National Investment Bank, and a network of regional banks whose aim is to help mobilise £500 billion into the economy and transform Britain.”

That’s not all intended to be government borrowing. It’s made up of £250 billion of government investment spending and £100 billion of funding for a national investment bank. The bank would raise another £150 billion from the private sector. That’s similar to how the European Investment Bank works.

The £250 billion in government-funded investment spending is also spread out over a decade, so it’s more like £25 billion a year.

By comparison, the current government borrowed about £52 billion in total last year and spent £80 billion in investment.

So it would be a significant increase in government investment, even if we don't know exactly what proportion of the funding would be spent.

Borrowing to invest isn’t necessarily a bad thing either. And as the Independent’s Ben Chu points out, the government itself says there are £483 billion worth of investment projects in the pipeline and plans over £100 billion in investment spending by the end of the decade.

Could Scotland stay in the EU?

“Scotland will be leaving the European Union. It will leave the European Union either as a member of the UK, or were it independent, it’s very clear from the Barroso document it would not be a member of the European Union.”

Theresa May, 15 March 2017

It’s correct that Scotland is very likely to be outside the EU one way or another, although it’s not technically impossible for an independent Scotland to remain a member.

If Brexit happens and Scotland stays in the UK, there’s no issue. Scotland is out.

If Brexit happens and Scotland meanwhile votes to leave the UK, things are more complicated. There’s no direct precedent for this situation.

The stance of the European Union itself is that an independent Scotland doesn’t automatically step into the UK’s shoes as an EU member. This was expressed in the 2012 “Barroso document” mentioned by Mrs May, in which the then President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso wrote:

“If part of the territory of a Member State would cease to be part of that state because it were to become a new independent state, the Treaties would no longer apply to that territory. In other words, a new independent state would, by the fact of its independence, become a third country with respect to the EU and the Treaties would no longer apply on its territory.”

So Scotland would have to apply to join the EU. A European Commission spokesman confirmed this week that this is still the position in Brussels.

This interpretation of the law has been criticised, and it’s at least possible that the EU court might agree that an independent Scotland remains in the EU if a case somehow reached it, although other legal experts regard it as a fairly speculative argument.

More likely, then, is that the consent of all the other 27 EU member countries would be needed for Scotland to remain in or rejoin the EU.

As the EU is based on international treaties, and treaties can always be changed, it is technically possible for Scotland to be written in as an EU member before leaving the UK. But that seems unlikely given the stance of the central EU bodies and some members.

So the most likely scenario would be a Scottish exit upon independence, followed by negotiations on joining as a new member. That would be done under Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union—the article preceding the now famous Article 50.

While it’s conceivable that Article 49 negotiations could take place before independence rather than after, to ensure that there’s no gap in Scottish EU membership, that might be vetoed by a country like Spain in the same way as a treaty change fix.