2012: A year of lying shamelessly
It’s been a busy year for FactChecking, with damned lies and statistics coming thick and fast from across the political spectrum.
These were the lowlights of 2012.
The first big Thick of It-style moment came in January with the announcement that the London-to-Birmingham section High Speed 2 rail network would finally go ahead.
HS2 will cost the taxpayer £32.7bn, the then Transport Secretary Justine Greening insisted.
But the Department for Transport published a document on the same day saying the real cost would be £3.7bn more: £36.4bn, or more than would be recouped in 60 years of ticket sales.
No one in government could offer an explanation of why there was a difference and which estimate was the true one.
Still, what’s £3.7bn between friends? Enough for about 100,000 extra nurses, it turned out.
The looming Olympics threw up more dodgy numbers, with the Prime Minister insisting that the London Games would bring in £13bn – conveniently more than the £8.5bn cost of staging the event.
We loved watching the Olympics, but weren’t convinced by any of the economic forecasts. If anyone can ever prove beyond doubt that the final benefits have outweighed the costs, we’ll do a lap of Eton Dorney in a Team Australia shirt.
We were forced to disagree (respectfully – he’s got bigger muscles than us) with Paralympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius when he suggested that his opponents were using excessively long prosthetic limbs to gain an unfair advantage.
But we were very happy to get one fact wrong. The total gold medal tally for Team GB was 65, not 62, as we predicted after reviewing all the forecasting techniques.
The showdown between Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson kept us busy in the spring. The union-backed Sack Boris campaign spent thousands on some clever railcard wallet-themed election material, which claimed that public transport in the capital had suffered under the Tory mayor.
Not true, we found. We stuck to that view despite howls of protest from the Livingstone camp, and also raised doubts about Ken Livingstone’s ability to deliver on his promise to cut fares.
The wallets with the dodgy claims immediately disappeared from the streets, and Boris was returned to office.
But it wasn’t all one-way traffic. We poured cold water over Boris’s claims to have boosted the numbers of policement in the capital.
The mayor promised us that officer numbers would remain constant in his second term, but he has failed to keep his word.
Nationally, police numbers were being cut too, but the government moved heaven and earth to avoid saying that.
Was it only really a 6 per cent cut, as Theresa May suggested? Were police forces really managing to handle the cuts without cutting frontline staff? Was it true, as David Cameron said, that the numbers of neighbourhood officers has soared?
No, no, and no.
We had our doubts from the start about the Work Programme – the Government’s Big Idea about how to get people off benefits and back to work.
Back in July, we first raised the question of whether the scheme was actually on course to do more harm than good.
Our misgivings deepened in October when leaked figures suggested that A4E, one of the companies commissioned by the government, were failing to hit their minimum targets. This provoked an angry response from A4E’s founder and former chairman Emma Harrison, who said our numbers were wrong and misleading.
Unfortunately for everyone, they weren’t. The first official figures out last month showed that every private sector provider had failed to hit the minimum targets specified by the government.
Nevertheless, the government could claim to have kept one of its key promises on employment - to create jobs in the private sector that would make up for public sector cuts.
In October Mr Cameron said new private sector jobs since the election had hit the one million mark.
Well…all right. But only if you start counting before the actual date of the election, and only if you include nearly 200,000 further education workers who were suddenly counted as private sector.
The PM also said a quarter of a million more women were in work than at the time of the election. But he was 60,000 out, and failed to mention the fact that female unemployment was going up too.
This week the UK Statistics Authority wrote to ministers asking them to stop saying that the NHS budget has gone up in real terms in the last years.
We first pointed out the weakness of this oft-repeated coalition claim in July.
The coalition gave the health service the tiniest budget increase imaginable, one that would instantly turn into a cut if inflation was higher than expected.
This summer, the actual spend on health was revealed to have fallen from £104.353bn to £104.333bn. Some mind-bending government spin ensued, but it was clear this was a broken promise.
We also revealed that the Department of Health actually spent about £1bn less than it could have, choosing to give the money back to the Treasury rather than spend it on patients.
Another broken health promise we nailed was Mr Cameron’s pre-election pledge to increase the number of midwives by 3,000. They have failed to materialise.
The then Employment Minister Chris Grayling, whose name will be familiar to regular readers, raised the issue of “benefit tourism” at the beginning of the year.
Were increasing numbers of immigrants coming to these shores with a view to enjoying an easy life on benefits. Errr…no. We found that the claimant rate among overseas nationals has fallen by two thirds in a decade, despite the economic downturn.
UKIP leader Nigel Farage took a similar line when he warned about how easy it is for Eastern European migrants to get a council house in Britain.
The truth is that it’s not easy and only 1 per cent of people from the A8 nations, which include Poland and the Baltic States, were living in social housing the last time anyone checked.
It doesn’t help when the former immigration minister, Damian Green, makes claims suggesting it’s possible “to come from anywhere in the world and on day one of arriving in Britain, live off benefits.”
When we asked the Department for Work and Pensions whether it’s possible to do this, we were told by a spokesman: “Anyone outside the EU or European Economic Area can not arrive in the UK and claim benefits from day one.”
These are just a couple of numerous dodgy claims about immigration that emerged throughout the year. Also looking decidely dodgy is the government’s stated aim of reducing net migration to the tens rather than hundreds of thousands by the end of this parliament.
For the record, net migration has fallen, but only to 183,000 on the latest figures, and largely because of a big drop in foreign students, something which could harm the economy.
If you fancy a tipple this Christmas, don’t feel too guilty about it.
Despite much ministerial hand-wringing over binge-drinking, we found that the average adult is drinking less than they used to, and below the recommended limits.
In fact, alcohol consumption is at its lowest since 1999. Binge drinking is down across all age groups and has fallen particularly sharply among 16-24-year-olds.