Fact check: Scottish Labour manifesto

Fact check: Scottish Labour manifesto

Scottish Labour launched its manifesto this week, as it seeks to take seats across the country and become the biggest party in Scotland.

Ferret Fact Service looked at five claims from the document

The last Labour government in Scotland oversaw a decrease in homelessness and all but abolished rough sleeping.

The first part of this claim is that the last Labour government in Scotland had overseen a reduction in homelessness. This could refer to either the UK Labour government, which was in charge at Westminster between 1997 and 2010, or the Scottish Labour coalition at Holyrood between 1999 and 2007.

In Scotland, homelessness is recorded when someone first goes to their local council to say they have nowhere to stay

They then make an application, and it is the council’s legal requirement to find accommodation. 

There were 43,135 applications in Scotland in 1997-98, when the UK Labour government got into power. When they left power in 2010, there were 55,626. This is a 29 per cent increase.

Looking at the Scottish Labour and Lib Dem coalition at Holyrood, there were 46,023 applications in 1999-00. When the parties left power in 2006-07, 59,211 homelessness applications were made. This is also a 29 per cent increase.

However, these statistics are impacted by changes made to the application system in 2002. The changes required councils to extend temporary accommodation to “non-priority applicants who in the past would have received advice and assistance only”. The Scottish Government statistics pointed out that this had a “noticeable impact on applications, which has been reflected in changing assessments and outcomes for homeless people”. 

Not all homelessness involves rough sleeping, which is when someone sleeps outside or in a place not designed to live in, like a car or abandoned building.

The manifesto also claims that under Labour, rough sleeping was “all but abolished”. This is not accurate, according to the statistics. While rough sleeping has generally decreased from at least 2003 onwards, there were 3,817 homelessness applications in 2006-07 where at least one member of the household had rough slept the night before. This was down from 5,287 in 2002-03.

Since the end of the Scottish Labour government, rough sleeping numbers have continued to fall, reaching 2,744 in 2009-10 before plateauing between 2013-14 and 2020-21. It reached a record low of 1,305 in 2021-22, before increasing slightly last year. 

Ferret Fact Service verdict: False

This claim is false

Under the last Scottish Labour government, the performance of students in maths, literacy and science was among the best in the world.

Scotland’s students can be measured against other countries across the world in the PISA survey carried out by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

It releases a new report every three years detailing the skills of 15-year-olds in mathematics, reading and science. There are 81 countries included in the most recent, 2022 survey, with 690,000 students participating.

Scotland’s position in the rankings for maths, literacy and science has fallen since it was first included in the study. 

In 2006, when Scottish Labour was in power at Holyrood, Scotland ranked 13th among the countries surveyed in science, 14th in reading, and 16th in maths. 

In the latest results, which were impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, Scotland was 32nd in science, 15th in reading and 31st in maths. Scotland was below the OECD average in science and maths. 

Even though more countries are surveyed now than were in 2006, Scotland’s performance has dropped across all three measures since then. 

Ferret Fact Service verdict: True

This claim is True

The last Labour government lifted 120,000 children and 130,000 pensioners out of poverty in Scotland.

It appears this statistic is referring to the UK Labour government rather than the Scottish Labour coalition at Holyrood.

Child poverty and pensioner poverty statistics are published annually by the Scottish Government. 

There are a few different ways in which poverty is measured. Relative poverty is the most common, showing households that earn less than 60 percent of the middle income in the country. This is useful for showing whether the poorest households’ earnings are keeping pace with incomes in the economy as a whole.

Absolute poverty measures those below the middle income in 2010-11. This reveals whether incomes in the poorest households are growing in ‘real terms’ (in line with inflation). 

It is also common to measure poverty after housing costs, which takes into account the impact of increasing rent, water rates, and mortgage payments and other factors.

When Labour came to power in 1997-98, there were 330,000 children in relative poverty after housing costs. In 2009-10, when the Labour government ended at Westminster, there were 240,000. This is a decrease of 90,000. 

In evidence given to Ferret Fact Service, Scottish Labour measured from 1997-98 to 2010-11, which would result in a reduction of 120,000.

Looking at pensioners, there were 250,000 in poverty after housing costs in 1997-98, and 120,000 in 2006-7. This is a decrease of 130,000.

Ferret Fact Service verdict: Half True

This claim is half true.

The centralising approach of the SNP has seen the number of local officers increasingly eroded.

Policing numbers have been a cause of debate in Scotland for many years, with the 2013 merger of Scotland’s regional forces into one – Police Scotland – being controversial.

The SNP initially increased overall police officer numbers by about 1,000, reaching a high of 17,496 in 2012. Since 2021, numbers have reduced, reaching 16,356 in 2024. 

The Scottish Government have been criticised for centralising policing in Scotland, leading to reductions in local frontline officers. Police Scotland’s website lists the local resources available to each force. Between 2017 and 2024, the local resource numbers have reduced by more than 800 people. 

Ferret Fact Service verdict: Mostly True

Mostly True

The equivalent of almost one in six Scots are on NHS waiting lists for appointments, tests or treatment.

National Records of Scotland’s latest estimates put the population at 5,447,700 in mid-2022. One in six Scots would equate to about 908,000 people on waiting lists. 

The numbers behind this figure come from statistics from Public Health Scotland about waiting times on three lists: for outpatients, inpatients/day cases, and patients waiting for one of eight key diagnostic tests. 

According to Public Health Scotland’s latest stats, there were 534,178 “waits” on the outpatient waiting list, 156,108 on the inpatient/day cases waiting list, and 150,014 waiting on key tests.

This comes to 840,300. The figure has been rounded to 840,000 and used by Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar repeatedly in debates and public appearances in recent months. This figure corresponds to between one in six and one in seven Scots. Scottish Labour and Sarwar have used both these proportions in campaigning. 

While the 840,300 figure refers to the number of people on waiting lists, it is likely that some people will be waiting on more than one list, or for multiple procedures. 

Public Health Scotland’s statistical release on waiting times states that “individual patients are counted more than once if they are waiting to attend more than one scheduled hospital appointment or admission, so the official statistics shown here and in previous publications do not reflect the actual number of individuals involved”.

It goes on to say that the different waiting list numbers “should not be added together to determine the proportion of the total population waiting for these types of care”.

This means we do not know the total number of people on the list, but it is likely that people have been double-counted.

Scottish Labour said the figures are “likely to be an underestimate,” as they do not include mental health outpatient treatment, or those waiting for physiotherapy appointments.

Ferret Fact Service verdict: Unsupported

Fact check: Scottish Labour manifesto 5

Ferret Fact Service (FFS) is a non-partisan fact checker, and 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.

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Main image: Scottish Parliament

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