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Fact check: Unemployment under Labour and Facebook ads

Between January and November 1924, unemployment fell by around one percentage point, from 11.9% to 10.8%. (Philip Toscano/PA)
Between January and November 1924, unemployment fell by around one percentage point, from 11.9% to 10.8%. (Philip Toscano/PA)

This summary of claims from the campaign trail has been compiled by Full Fact, the UK’s largest fact checking organisation working to find, expose and counter the harms of bad information, as part of the PA news agency’s Election Check 24.

Has unemployment always been higher after a Labour government?

On Monday, defence secretary Grant Shapps claimed “every Labour government in history” has left office with unemployment higher than when they came in.

It is true that this has been the case with most Labour governments, and that includes Labour’s two most recent periods in government (1997-2010 and 1974-1979).

But historic unemployment data, while not directly comparable with current data, suggests there’s at least one exception, with unemployment falling during the Labour minority government of 1924.

Between January and November 1924, unemployment fell by around one percentage point, from 11.9% to 10.8%. (The absolute numbers of the unemployed also fell, from around 1.3 million to around 1.2 million.)

In addition, though it wasn‘t a “Labour government” as such, it’s worth noting that between May 1940 and May 1945 the Labour party was part of the wartime government, led by Sir Winston Churchill, which left unemployment lower than when it came in.

Some Conservative governments have also seen rises in unemployment. Of the three completed periods of Conservative government since the war, at least two saw increases.

Unemployment is currently lower than it was when the Conservatives entered government as part of the Coalition in 2010, however.

Facebook ads repeat claims about waiting lists and tax

We’ve been taking a look at some of the political adverts running on Facebook throughout the campaign—and have found a number making claims we’ve previously fact checked.

For example, a Facebook advert for the Labour candidate for Boston and Skegness ran between 6 and 10 June and received between 2,000 and 3,000 impressions, according to Facebook’s ad library. It claimed: “We know that there are eight million people currently on waiting lists.” But as we’ve written before, that’s not what NHS data shows.

Assuming the ad was talking about NHS England (which is the part of the NHS the UK government controls) and referral to treatment data, which is usually what people mean by “the waiting list”, then it appears it was referring not to the number of people on waiting lists but the number of cases, and used a rounded figure.

In the latest NHS England data, collected at the end of April 2024, about 6.3 million people were waiting to begin about 7.6 million courses of treatment. (At the time the ad started, the latest data, for March 2024, said 6.3 million people and 7.5 million cases.) There are always more cases than people in the data, because some people are awaiting treatment for more than one thing.

Meanwhile the Conservatives’ claim that under Labour working families face a £2,094 tax rise features in a number of the party’s Facebook adverts, often as a standalone figure.

As we wrote earlier this month, the £2,094 figure is unreliable and based on a number of questionable assumptions. It comes from a Conservative Party estimate of Labour’s “unfunded spending commitments”, but many of the costings behind the calculation are uncertain.

Even if the figure was right, we can’t be certain this money would be collected by raising taxes, and if it was, families are unlikely to be affected equally.

Election Check 24