General Election 2019 Stat Checks: Week Two

The second week of campaigning featured many questionable claims.

In the second week of campaigning for the 2019 General Election, there were many questionable claims — which this article examines.

Low Trust

Claim: Trust in politicians is at an all-time low.
Rating: False.
Reasoning: As part of a video for campaigning group Momentum, Ash Sarkar claimed:

And with trust in politicians at an all-time low, we need real people, with real stories to tell.

This oft-repeated claim was challenged in Ipsos MORI’s study, The Truth About Trust.

There is little difference between government ministers and other politicians. (Source: Ipsos MORI)

Trust in politicians is low — but this has always been the case since the surveys started. From survey estimates, trust in politicians has fluctuated and is not an all-time low.

Cost of Corbyn

Claim: Labour has committed spend an additional £1.2tn over the next five years
Rating: False.
Reasoning: The Conservatives have claimed that Labour’s spending commitments amount to an extra £1.2tn over the next five years.

£1.2tn is written out as £1,200,000,000,000.

This claim is based on the party’s 2017 commitments (supposedly valued at around £600bn), plus extra capital and resource spending (valued at an extra £590bn). The figures are presented as costs over a five-year Parliament.

The Labour manifesto has not yet been published, so it is unknown how much of the 2017 manifesto will be replicated. Consequently, it is false to say the party “has committed” to this figure.

Part of the Conservative calculation includes a policy that Labour have explicitly ruled out: the abolition of private schools. This policy was valued at £35bn.

There is major double-counting too. The cost of ‘re-nationalising the railways, energy supply, water and postal services’ appears as £196bn in Labour’s 2017 manifesto commitments, and then the cost to ‘re-nationalise the Big Six [energy companies]’ is listed as £124bn in new capital spending.

Fact-checkers Full Fact look into detail at other components of this claim.

Cost of Corbyn Rises

Claim: Under Labour, every taxpayer in Britain will have a higher tax bill of £2,400 every year.
Rating: False.
Reasoning: The Conservative calculation runs as follows:

  • There would be an estimated extra £1.2tn in spending across the five-year Parliament;
  • Of that amount, an estimated £374bn would not be covered by additional taxation or changes to the amount Labour would permit its government to borrow;
  • Divided by the number of income taxpayers and then by five gives £2,400.
The presentation of this figure is an amount that each taxpayer would pay. (Source: Conservatives)

The Conservatives have substantially overestimated Labour spending commitments, prior to the publication of its manifesto.

No government is obliged to raise additional money through income tax, nor has Labour made any indication of its willingness to widely increase income taxes. Income taxes are currently applied progressively, not uniformly. (This type of calculation is the basis fro claims of ‘VAT bombshells’ in the past, as parties often refused to rule out increasing that tax.)

The £2,400 figure is presented as an amount that every taxpayer would pay, rather than the estimated average amount per income taxpayer — which is false.

The Unknown Method

Claim: Under Labour, net migration would increase to 840,000 per year.
Rating: Implausible (about the future).
Reasoning: Net migration — the number of people coming to the country minus those leaving — was estimated to be around 226,000 people in the year to March 2019. These are preliminary figures, based on making some adjustments to the International Passenger Survey estimates. It should be noted that

A motion passed at the 2019 Labour conference desired free movement of people to be extended. Labour’s manifesto has not yet been published, and the Conservative interpretation of this motion is that all immigration controls would be dropped. According to the press release,

The analysis of Labour’s proposals for open borders — which uses official figures and the Government’s own methodology — reveals that net migration could increase to 840,000 per year if Jeremy Corbyn is elected as Prime Minister.

There is no information about what this methodology involves. It is speculatively based on a particular interpretation of a Labour conference motion. It is implausible that net migration would more than triple.

The Network Problem

Claim: Maintaining a nationalised broadband network would cost around £230m a year.
Rating: False.
Reasoning: An announcement from Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell made the following claim about broadband internet:

The maintenance costs of the network, around £230m a year, will be more than covered by a new approach to taxing multinationals that we welcomed several weeks ago.

This £230m figure supposedly comes from a National Infrastructure Commission report, which placed ‘operating costs on a 30-year basis’ for full fibre broadband at £6.9bn. Labour have divided this figure by 30 to get £230m.

You should not just divided this figure by 30. (Source: Prism and Tactis)

However, the original cost analysis by Prism and Tactis stated:

A Weighted Average Cost of Capital (WACC) was applied to all Opex, through applying a discount rate of 9.3%.

The total present value over 30 years, applying a discount rate of 9.3% per year, was £6.9bn. Consequently, the annual running costs implied by this analysis are around £690m a year — not £230m.

Moreover, the 2017/18 annual report for OpenReach stated its operating costs for that financial year were £2.6bn. This error was highlighted by Sam Taylor on social media.

Fastest in the G20?

Claim: The UK is reducing emissions faster than any other G20 country.
Rating: Needs clarification.
Reasoning: This claim appeared in a leaflet from my local Conservative candidate:

In fact no other major industrialised country has done more to cut CO2 intensity and we are now reducing emissions faster than any other G20 country.

This needs clarification. I am using 1999 — the formulation of the G20 — as the baseline. From 1999 to 2017, territorial MtC02 emissions (the standard international measure) have fallen by 10% in the United States, 11% in Germany, 16% in France, 23% in Italy and 31% in the United Kingdom.

For comparison, the United States territorial emissions were over 5,000 in every year since 1990. (Image: Global Carbon Atlas)

These figures were calculated by the author, using the Global Carbon Atlas database. The original data comes from the UN National Inventory submissions. There are alternative measures, such as consumption emissions, which seek to include emissions from global supply chains.

Casting the Net

Claim: Total migration from outside the EU
Rating: False.
Reasoning: During a radio interview with the Prime Minister, BBC Radio presenter Rachel Burden said of “total” migration statistics:

Over 200,000 people came countries outside the EU…and around 59,000 came from inside the EU.

These figures were wrongly stated to be the “total” estimates of migrants from those two sets of countries.

Looking at the year to March 2019, central estimates of net migration — immigration minus emigration — were 59,000 from the European Union, and 219,000 from non-EU countries.

Total immigration estimates were 200,000 from the EU and 333,000 from outside. Be aware these figures are estimated, so the total number from migrants from EU countries is plausibly between 173,000 and 227,000.

Also, the general trends are that both EU immigration has declined and emigration has risen since the 2016 referendum.

Net EU migration has declined since the 2016 EU referendum. (Image: ONS)

No, UK national debt is not £2.3tn

Claim: The UK national debt is £2.3tn.
Rating: False.
Reasoning: An image marked from ‘Pileus’ claims that:

In 2010, when the Conservatives took over, national debt was: £0.95trn. So they promised to reduce it saying we can trust them with the economy. Now it’s: £2.3trn.

This is untrue. To quote the latest Public Sector Finances report from the Office for National Statistics:

Debt (public sector net debt excluding public sector banks) at the end of September 2019 was £1,790.9bn (or 80.3% of GDP).

The UK national debt is not over £2tn. (Image: ONS)

This blog looks at the use of statistics in Britain and beyond. It is written by RSS Statistical Ambassador and Chartered Statistician @anthonybmasters.

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