Seven parties and seven questions: Fact-checking the latest U.K. election debate

Seven parties and seven questions: Fact-checking the latest U.K. election debate

By: tori marland&
iryna hnatiuk&
alexander smith&
June 8 2024

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Seven parties and seven questions: Fact-checking the latest U.K. election debate

(Source: Jeff Overs/BBC/Reuters)

As we enter the third week of the U.K.'s general election campaign, the BBC hosted the second debate ahead of the July 4 polling day. This time, the debate was between seven major parties in the U.K. and did not feature the Labour or Conservative party leaders, as in Tuesday's ITV debate

Taking part this time were Labour deputy leader, Angela Rayner, Conservative Party and leader of the House of Commons Penny Mordaunt, Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper, Reform leader Nigel Farage, Green Party co-leader Carla Denyer, Scottish National Party (SNP) leader at the House of Commons Stephen Flynn, and Plaid Cymru leader Rhun ap Iorwerth.

Mishal Husain presented and moderated, and the candidates answered seven questions from audience members over 90 minutes. Logically Facts examines the candidates' responses to these questions. 

How will the parties ensure our army is ready and our country is safe from another conflict? 

As a NATO member, the U.K. is obligated to spend a minimum of 2 percent of its GDP on defense, a figure that both Labour and the Conservatives commit to increasing to 2.5 percent. Recent NATO figures show that the U.K. spent 2.3 percent of its GDP on defense in 2023.

Angela Rayner stated that Labour has committed to a triple lock on nuclear deterrence and 2.5 percent of GDP spending. She also expressed concern about the quality of armed forces housing. Rayner highlighted Labour's commitment to implementing nuclear deterrents after previously coming under fire for misrepresenting her voting record on unilateral disarmament.

Carla Denyer focused on the consequences of climate change on international conflict and that militaries recognize that if climate change is not tackled adequately, it will lead to conflict over essential resources, such as water, which will create famine and lead to millions of climate refugees. 

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg recently called climate change a "crisis multiplier" with global security implications. Research from the University of East Anglia shows that while the abundance of water globally is unlikely to lead to a shortage, the water supply can be used as a weapon of control during conflict. Climate change can intensify the risk of drought in arid areas, and the scarcity of resources such as water can intensify conflicts, resulting in higher numbers of refugees. An EU study estimates that, in 2022, there were 32.6 million displacements due to natural disasters, including extreme temperatures. 

How will the parties ensure a fully functioning NHS?

Husain questioned Flynn on record NHS waiting times, stating people are waiting up to 24 months for treatments and 24 hours in some cases for Accident and Emergency (A&E) visits. Flynn claimed two issues were at hand here: the COVID-19 backlog and austerity. He also said that NHS Scotland is performing better in some metrics than NHS England and Wales. This is also the first of many references Flynn made throughout the debate to "£18bn of public sector cuts." The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has estimated this figure as likely to impact government departments by 2028/2029.

It is true that Scotland is outperforming England and Wales on A&E waiting times: Office for National Statistics (ONS) research shows England faring worst out of the three, with Scotland the highest performer. The IFS also agrees that the pandemic is having lasting effects on waiting times for treatment but points out that Scotland is struggling despite higher funding and higher levels of staffing. 

ons data waiting times
Statistics for A&E waiting times in England, Scotland, and Wales. (Source: NHS EnglandPublic Health Scotland, and Welsh Government/Office of National Statistics)

Rayner picked up on Flynn's claims of public sector cuts, stating that Labour will close the non-dom loophole, bringing in money for public services, including 40,000 new GP appointments every week. The IFS states that it is impossible to calculate the potential tax base, but one estimate suggests it could be an increase of around £1.8bn a year. The current estimate of a GP appointment cost is £9, meaning that 40,000 new appointments would cost £1.68m. It is important to bear in mind that these are all estimates. 

Mordaunt referred to a new dental and medical school in Portsmouth. However, this is an extension campus of King's College London and, therefore, not directly the result of government funding or intervention. She claimed that Labour has cut the NHS budget "four times" in Wales and that waiting times are much longer than in England. While Labour previously cut the NHS budget in Wales – we found no evidence it was four times – it has increased it by £450m in the last budget, an increase of around 4 percent, compared to England's less than 1 percent increase.

Reform positioned itself away from all the parties – who all largely agreed the NHS should be kept and funded – and said the NHS isn't working. While healthcare expenditure as a percentage of GDP was 11.3 percent in 2022, as Farage stated, he is partially incorrect that it is not funded by National Insurance (NI), which accounts for approximately 20 percent of NHS funding.

What are the parties going to do about immigration? 

While the SNP, Plaid Cymru, and the Greens broadly agreed that migration is necessary for the country, the question is dominated by Reform's Nigel Farage. While he was broadly correct that net migration figures are higher than in previous years, it is inaccurate to say that most that come "are not productive members of society." Figures show that almost half of the increase in non-EU immigrants is linked to work visas, with another 39 percent linked to students. While 27 percent of the 48 percent of work visas issued were to dependents, to say they are unproductive is inaccurate. Depending on the type of visa issued, dependents can work or study – especially if they are a spouse or partner. One estimate by the ONS suggests that immigration is worth around £3.3bn annually to the U.K. 

Farage ended with the claim that "some students even brought their mum," but this is highly misleading. Parents are only eligible for a dependent visa if their child has applied for a child student visa, which comes with very stringent conditions and particularly high financial thresholds. The child must be attending an independent school in the U.K., at an average cost of £15,000 a year; they must prove sufficient funding; they must maintain their primary residence outside of the U.K.; and only one parent is eligible to join the child.

The Conservatives claimed they "guarantee" the numbers will come down over the next few years but offered no insight as to their plans to do so. In response, Labour said they would scrap the controversial Rwanda scheme and says small boat arrivals are a very small percentage of those migrating to the U.K. This tallies with a fact-check we produced earlier this week on one of Reform's adverts, where the ONS told us that asylum seekers make up around 78,000 of the 685,000 figure, and 90 percent of those 78,000 were arrivals by small boat – approximately 10 percent of the total net migration figures. 

In response to the first part of the audience question, referring to the difficulty of finding housing in the U.K., Farage blamed rising rents on the "population crisis," but the Liberal Democrats focused on their plan to build 150,000 social homes a year. Claims have often surfaced suggesting that housing is taken by immigrants, including one last year that "half of London's housing is occupied by migrants," which was not true. There is a long-term housing crisis, with fewer homes being built than needed, far fewer social homes, and the continued negative impact of the right-to-buy policy introduced in the 1980s by the Conservatives, as housing expert and sociologist Lynsey Hanley points out

Who will change things for working people?

Plaid Cymru was the first to respond, pointing out the Labour Party's lack of changes. Rayner responded by blaming the Conservatives for crashing the economy—specifically Liz Truss and mortgage rates, which jumped after her mini-budget in October 2022 and have since remained high. 

Rayner also mentioned that the U.K. is currently at the mercy of global energy prices and that energy prices have risen significantly. Under the April to June 2024 direct debit price cap, the average annual bill for typical gas and electricity consumption is £1,690. This is below the peak of £2,380 under the Energy Price Guarantee from October 2022 to June 2023 but still 39 percent higher than in winter 2021/22.

This allowed her to reference the flagship Labour policy GB Energy, which will impose a windfall tax on energy companies and allow for the formation of a public energy company. It will not produce energy, and it is unclear how much will be publicly owned. 

great british energy xA Facebook post from the Labour Party promoting its public energy company, Great British Energy. (Source: The Labour Party/Facebook/Screenshot)

Mordaunt responded to the question by highlighting the cost of living. She claimed that "the U.K. is outperforming Europe on inflation," which is true, but only by 0.1 percent. She once again referenced the debunked £2,000 tax claim. 

Denyer continued by stating that the U.K. economy doesn't work and that such a state can be called an "inequality crisis." According to poverty charity the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, income inequality has declined, with the top 1 percent holding 23 percent of wealth in 2022/3.   

Flynn then blamed Brexit for wiping out £40bn in tax receipts from the economy and impacting the economy more than COVID-19. The decision to leave the European Union has indeed lifted the price of imported goods, flattened business investment, and damaged trade. Brexit's impact, however, cannot be separated from that of COVID-19 and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which led to a surge in the price of energy. This, in turn, has impacted households' spending power and businesses' profits. 

According to Flynn, these are the reasons to blame the Conservatives and the Labour Party for not seeking ways to solve this problem. In response, Mordaunt claimed that the U.K.'s exports are currently at a record high. In fact, the export of goods and services has remained relatively the same since 2022. While the export of services increased, the export of goods demonstrated lower numbers during the last two years. 

Farage claims that people are increasingly opting not to work, which has impacted the economy. The number of people not currently in a paid job is 11 million, due to a variety of reasons: study, caring responsibilities, illness, or retirement. The BBC says that more "say they want a job (1.7 million people) than are officially unemployed (1.4 million)."

Why is it when parties want your vote, they promise things, but then when elected, nothing gets done?  

Candidates had an opportunity here to highlight their successful policies and point out the weaknesses of other parties. 

Mordaunt claimed that tax cuts, such as the reduction of national insurance payments, were giving voters more disposable income, that Labour's net zero plans would lead to higher energy bills, and that a Conservative government would cut bills and taxes, repeating Rishi Sunak's debunked claims from the ITV debate that Labour would increase taxes by £2,000.

Debate moderator Mishal Husain countered that personal taxes overall are still rising due to the freezing of income tax thresholds, implemented by Rishi Sunak in the 2021 Spring Budget. The Financial Times has since reported that analysis by independent think-tank The Resolution Society shows that taxes could rise by £800 under both Labour and the Conservative party after the election.

Rayner referred to Boris Johnson breaking COVID lockdown rules and eroding the public's trust in the Conservative government. However, multiple Labour Party members, including MP Stephen Kinnock and former party leader Jeremy Corbyn, were also found to have breached lockdown rules.

Flynn pointed to Scottish Child Payments, launched in 2021, which he claimed have lifted 100,000 children out of poverty since its introduction. Most recent published figures show, "As of 31 March 2024, 329,055 children aged 0-15 years were actively benefitting from Scottish Child Payment." 

Flynn stated that Scotland has built 40 percent more affordable homes than England, and 70 percent more than Wales, figures previously given by the Scottish government in response to questions about affordable housing and reported in quarterly data in September 2023. Figures published by the Scottish government show that "Scotland has had a higher rate of delivery than all other U.K. countries in each year but one from 2015/16 to 2022/23, with the rate dropping below the rate for Northern Ireland in the year 2020/21 following COVID-19 restrictions." We could find no other independent figures to corroborate the Scottish government's. 

What matters more: economic growth or successful climate policy?

Farage's main claim in this section revolved around wind farms and energy bills, stating that for 20 years, people have paid 20 percent tax on their electricity bills to pay for very inefficient wind energy. It is unclear how Farage has arrived at this figure. Energy is supplied by various private companies across the U.K., all of which have different supplies, costs, and standing charges, as explained by the energy regulator, Ofgem. In fact, in some places near wind turbines, some customers actually receive money off their bills when the turbines are spinning. Wind farms produced nearly 30 percent of the U.K.'s energy in 2023. 

Flynn criticized Farage on his dismissal of net zero, saying that net zero is economic growth. However, he also said, directed at Labour, that it is not GB energy, but "Scotland's energy." Whether a reference to Labour's plan to headquarter its GB energy proposals in Scotland or to the actual production of energy, this is not entirely accurate. Neither the U.K. nor Scotland has nationalized energy production; it is all owned by private companies, some of which are neither British nor indeed Scottish. 

Mordaunt rounded off this section by claiming that once Labour "get in, you won't be able to buy a petrol car," and if your boiler breaks, you'll be forced to spend "tens of thousands" on a new heat pump. Although Rishi Sunak has now moved the target date to 2035, a ban on new petrol and diesel cars by 2030 was first introduced as government policy by his predecessor, Boris Johnson, in 2020. Labour has stated they plan to reverse Sunak's delay to the original 2030 date. 

mordaunt petrol fb
A Facebook post from Penny Mordaunt reiterating her debate claim that Labour intends to ban petrol cars within 5 years. (Source: Facebook/Screenshot)

The Conservative government currently provides grants of up to £7,500 towards a heat pump to replace gas boilers, significantly reducing the average cost of around £10,000. Currently, there is no specific Labour policy on heat pumps, but they will likely be referenced in the upcoming manifesto. 

Rayner once again referred to GB Energy here in response to Mordaunt. 

How will the parties make sure young people are safe from knife crime?

Denyer, Rhun ap Iorwerth, and Flynn all highlighted the closure of services and increase in poverty as reasons behind an increase in knife crime – with Flynn once again referring to the "£18bn of cuts" figure.

Meanwhile, Mordaunt and Rayner clashed over police figures as a means of tackling crime: Rayner claimed Labour would put 13,000 more neighborhood police on the streets and said to Mordaunt that Conservatives have cut police officers, not increased their numbers. While the Conservatives did recruit 20,000 officers between 2019 - 2023, there was a fall in preceding years, meaning a net gain of approximately 3,500.

Mordaunt also incorrectly stated that London is "top of the list" for knife crime, which Husain corrects by saying it's actually the West Midlands. Logically Facts published an extended piece on knife crime and London earlier this year, which also refutes Mordaunt's claim. 

Farage stopped short of saying that the areas with the highest rates of knife crime are those areas with higher populations of Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people but heavily implied a correlation, saying, "Stop and search. We know the areas in which knives are most prevalent. And of course, if we don't do it, oh gosh, if this area has got a high proportion of people from the black and ethnic minority communities, they might call us racist. We've got to stop doing this. We've got to completely forget the color of people's skin and treat everybody equally, but we must stop and search. We must do it in a very, very tough way. We have to have proper sentences." 

In the West Midlands, which has the highest rates of knife crime, 77 percent of the population is white. In Wales, where knife crime has doubled and outstripped London since 2016, 90.6 percent of the population identifies as white British. London is more diverse, with 46 percent of the population classed as BAME. It does, of course, have the highest population density in the U.K. 

Finally, Farage said, "We can all go shoplifting now and nick up to £200 without being prosecuted." This threshold was introduced in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime, and Policing Act 2014. However, new legislation will make it an offense to assault a retail worker, and people can come up against the police in cases of "low value" shoplifting under £200. They may not be prosecuted but will receive a "Summary Offence" – often a postal fine.

Follow Logically Facts' coverage and fact-checking of the U.K. General Election here.

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