Fact check: Dawn Butler’s claims about Boris Johnson

Ferret Fact Service | Scotland's impartial fact check project GERS

Labour MP Dawn Butler was ejected from the House of Commons after listing a number of statements by the Prime Minister that she claimed were false. 

The member for Brent Central made a series of claims in the statement, which came from a video from campaigner Peter Stefanovic.  

Ferret Fact Service took a look at these claims. 

The Prime Minister says: that the economy has grown by 73% – it is just not true; that he has reinstated nursing bursaries – just not true; that there is not a Covid app working anywhere in the world – just not true; and that the Tories invested £34 billion in the NHS – not true. The Prime Minister said ‘we have severed the link between infection and serious disease and death’. Not only is that not true but it is dangerous.

Dawn Butler MP

Butler claimed: The Prime Minister says that the economy has grown by 73% – it is not true

In January 2020, answering a PMQs question about climate change, Boris Johnson said: “the economy, under this Conservative Government, has grown by 73 per cent”.

Measuring the economy is a complex task, with numerous different factors in play, but the most commonly cited metric is growth in gross domestic product (GDP). GDP is the total value of all the goods and services produced in a country.

The Conservatives have been in power at Westminster since 2010. Between then and 2019, the last year before Johnson made the statement, GDP had increased by about 20 per cent. To reach 73 per cent growth we would have to measure from 1993. 

Ferret Fact Service verdict: True

Butler claimed: The Prime Minister says that he has reinstated nursing bursaries – just not true

The Prime Minister made this claim in March 2020 during PMQs.

NHS nurses’ bursaries in England were initially scrapped in 2017, as part of the Conservative government’s austerity measures, and students were moved on to the regular student loans system.

However in 2019, Boris Johnson’s government announced a new payment to nursing students of at least £5,000 per year, with a maximum of £8,000 paid to eligible students. 

However, this does not replicate the full bursary that NHS student nurses received prior to the cut in 2017, and students will still incur debt as part of the student loans repayment system. 

Ferret Fact Service verdict: Half true

Butler claimed: The Prime Minister says that there is not a Covid app working anywhere in the world – just not true

Johnson made this claim in June 2020, saying: “It would be great to have an app, but no country currently has a functioning track and trace app.”

This was not correct at the time. Countries who had launched apps at the time included Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, and India. All these apps were “functioning” at the time of Johnson’s statement. 

Ferret Fact Service verdict: True

Butler claimed: The Prime Minister says that the Tories invested £34bn in the NHS – not true

Boris Johnson made this claim in June 2020. He said: “the Government are engaged in record investments in the NHS of £34bn”.

He has made this claim in parliament and in interviews and promotional material for the Conservatives. 

This is pretty much correct in cash terms. However the figure repeatedly cited does not account for inflation, so the ‘real terms’ amount is significantly lower. 

This is important as the amount that the NHS needs to operate at the same level increases as the cost of providing services increases with inflation. So a £34bn investment in the NHS from 2018-19 to 2023-24 needs to be adjusted to take account of this. When adjusted for inflation, this is about £20.5 bn. 

The £20.5bn increase was widely reported when the NHS settlement was agreed. 

This spending is not directly for Scotland as health spending is devolved to Holyrood, and will only apply in England. However it will have consequences for Scottish budgets through the Barnett formula, which adjusts Scottish budgets as a proportion of UK government spending.

Ferret Fact Service verdict: Half true

Dawn Butler MP
Labour MP Dawn Butler

Butler claimed: The Prime Minister said “we have severed the link between infection and serious disease and death”. Not only is that not true but it is dangerous.

This is by far the most recent example given in Dawn Butler’s speech. It comes from Johnson at PMQs on 7 July 2021.

He said: “Scientists are also absolutely clear that we have severed the link between infection and serious disease and death”.

It is not true that there is no longer a link between getting Covid-19 and getting seriously ill or dying. The Covid-19 vaccines are effective at reducing or eliminating the symptoms of Covid-19 in most people, but like any vaccine it is not 100 percent effective.

While most UK adults have now had their first jab, about a third have yet to get their second, so are still at risk from catching Covid-19 and experiencing severe symptoms. In the last seven days of available data, 402 people in the UK died within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test.

Ferret Fact Service verdict: True

Ferret Fact Service (FFS) is a non-partisan fact checker, and a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network fact-checkers’ code of principles. All the sources used in our checks are publicly available and the FFS fact-checking methodology can be viewed here. Want to suggest a fact check? Go to ideas.theferret.scot, email us at factcheck@theferret.scot or join our Facebook group.

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