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Fact check: Tax burden and police numbers

Round up of claims from the campaign trail checked by Full Fact, including claims made during the Sky News ‘Battle For Number 10’ programme.

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Metropolitan Police recruits in uniform saluting in white gloves

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.

Tax burden

Appearing on Sky News’s ‘The Battle For Number 10’ on Wednesday evening, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer made a claim we’ve heard throughout the general election campaign – that the “tax burden” is the highest for 70 years.

And Labour’s manifesto, launched Thursday, made a similar claim, saying: “The Conservatives have raised the tax burden to a 70-year high.”

It’s true that in the 2022/23 financial year the so-called ‘tax burden’ – which refers to tax revenues as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) – was at the highest level since 1949, at 36.3%.

In 2023/24 it fell slightly, to 36.1%. But prior to the election, the Office for Budget Responsibility, on whose figures Labour have based similar claims previously, forecast that the tax burden will increase over each of the next five years, reaching 37.1% in 2028/29. That would be the second highest level on record, behind only 1948.

Police numbers

Also speaking on ‘The Battle For Number 10’, the Prime Minister and Conservative leader Rishi Sunak claimed that police numbers are at a “record high”.

That’s not quite what the latest published data shows, though earlier last year the number of police officers in England and Wales was the highest since comparable records began in 2003.

The number of full-time-equivalent police officers in England and Wales peaked at 147,430 in March 2023, but fell slightly to 147,098 in September 2023. There was a similar small drop in headcount, from 149,566 in March 2023 to 149,164 in September 2023.

Home insulation

At the launch event for the Green Party’s manifesto on Wednesday, the party’s co-leader Carla Denyer said the UK’s energy bills are “still sky-high because we have the worst insulated homes in Europe”. The online version of the manifesto included a similar claim, saying: “Our energy bills are far too high because we have the worst-insulated homes in Europe.”

It’s true that poorer home insulation in the UK (especially relative to the rest of Europe) has contributed to high energy bills here. But that’s not the only factor – the large rise in bills in 2022 and 2023 was driven by increased demand for oil and gas following the end of lockdown and by the high cost of gas after Russia invaded Ukraine.

Domestic energy prices have come down more recently, although UK energy bills remain higher than they did prior to the invasion.

Election Check 24

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