SNP MP Mhairi Black’s speeches in the UK Parliament regularly go viral online, and her most recent to do so was a condemnation of the record of the Conservative government at Westminster.
She attacked the UK Government over the economy, inequality and social security, among other issues.
Ferret Fact Service looked at eight claims in Black’s speech.
“We have the slowest growth in the G7”
Various claims have been made in recent years about the UK’s economic growth when compared to other countries in the G7, which comprises Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, UK and the United States.
Boris Johnson, for example, repeatedly claimed in early 2022 that the UK had the fastest growing economy in the G7, but Black said during her May 2022 speech that the UK had the slowest growth in the G7.
Black may have been referring to growth predictions for 2023 made by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in April 2022.
The IMF’s World Economic Outlook report projected UK growth in 2023 to be just 1.2 per cent. This was later revised downward in July 2022 to just 0.5 per cent. This is the lowest growth prediction among the G7 countries.
In May 2022, when Black made this speech, the UK’s real GDP had grown 0.6 per cent compared to pre-pandemic levels. This was the same as Japan, higher than Germany and lower than the other G7 members.
Comparing the first quarter of 2022 with the same period in 2021, the UK’s GDP growth was higher than any of the other G7 nations.
There are different ways to measure growth in GDP, and depending on your time period the UK’s growth can seem more or less favourable compared to other G7 nations, but it does not appear that the UK had the lowest growth.
Ferret Fact Service verdict: Half True
“We have got greater regional inequality than almost any other developed nation.”
Usually regional inequality refers to the difference between the richest and poorest areas of a country. Comparing levels of regional inequality in one country with those in another can be very difficult.
A widely-shared report from The Economist in 2017 compared the richest and poorest regions of various developed countries, based on GDP, and found that the UK had a significantly wider gap than a number of similar countries, including Sweden, Germany, Spain, Japan, France and Italy.
This used OECD data on small regions, known as TL3s. But this has been questioned by UK fact-checker FullFact as it can mean that areas where a lot of people work, but don’t live, such as the City of London, can skew inequality figures.
There are also issues with comparing larger areas (TL2s), as the number of people living in an area in the UK is not necessarily the same as an area in another country, which can also affect the figures.
The size of area used for comparison purposes also has an effect on how unequal the UK seems compared to other countries.
The most recent OECD comparable data is from 2018. When looking at TL3s, it shows the UK has some of the worst disparity between its richest and poorest regions, compared to the 29 other countries studied.
But when larger comparison areas are used (TL2s), the UK’s level of regional inequality is comparable to a number of similar countries, such as France, Italy and Belgium.
Ferret Fact Service verdict: Half True
“Food banks do the job of government in provision for families. Families that are more often than not in work.”
The data on the characteristics and employment status of people using foodbanks is patchy. A report by the Trussell Trust in 2019 found about 14 per cent of those using food banks were either in work themselves or lived with someone who was in work.
The overwhelming majority of users, the research found, were not in work and were referred to the food bank after an issue with benefits payments.
Ferret Fact Service verdict: Unsupported
The Conservatives “banned schools in England from using sources that are not overtly pro-capitalist”.
Black’s claim is based on guidance which was issued to schools in England in September 2020.
It was reported on by media groups at the time, using quotes from the guidance which said: “Schools should not under any circumstances use resources produced by organisations that take extreme political stances on matters”.
Examples of these stances were given in the document, including “a publicly stated desire to abolish or overthrow democracy, capitalism, or to end free and fair elections”.
However, this guidance has since been altered. In February 2022 a new section on political impartiality was included, and the reference to capitalism now reads: “a publicly stated desire to abolish democracy, to end free and fair elections, or violently overthrow capitalism”.
It is not quite accurate for Black to say that any sources which aren’t overtly pro-capitalist are banned, the guidance states that materials from organisations who take “extreme political stances” should not be used. Moreover, since February the definition has been slightly narrowed.
Ferret Fact Service verdict: Half True
“They are privatising Channel 4.”
The view of the UK Government was that Channel 4 should be privatised and in July 2021 it launched a consultation on its proposed move. Ministers argued that the channel would be better served if it did not have the “constraints that come with public ownership”.
When Liz Truss became Prime Minister in September 2022, a new culture secretary – Michelle Donelan – was appointed.
She announced that the department will “re-examine the business case” for privatisation to make sure “that we still agree with that decision”.
Ferret Fact Service verdict: True
“This government literally wants to get rid of the Human Rights Act.”
Replacing the Human Rights Act (HRA) has been an aim of many Conservative politicians in recent years.
The UK remains a signatory to the ECHR as part of its membership of the Council of Europe, but in July 2022 the government introduced into parliament the Bill of Rights bill. This made controversial reforms to the HRA, including allowing UK courts to override decisions made by the European Court of Human Rights.
Ferret Fact Service verdict: Mostly True
“We have the lowest pensions in Europe”
Comparing pensions across countries can be quite difficult as there are structural differences in pension systems across Europe.
The House of Commons library identifies three broad types of pensioner pay:
- state pensions and pensioner benefits (state-run schemes which are usually paid through taxation)
- occupational pensions (defined contribution or benefit schemes in workplaces)
- personal pensions (voluntary saving by individuals into private schemes)
Different countries’ pension systems rely on these three pillars to different extents.
In the UK, pensioners get a significant amount of their old age income from occupational and private schemes. This is less common in some other countries.
This means that focussing on state pension only might not accurately portray the relative income of pensioners across European countries.
The OECD compares countries by the ‘pension replacement rate’. This looks at how much a pensioner would receive relative to their salary when they were working.
Using only the state mandatory pension, the UK’s pension replacement rate is one of the lowest in Europe, but when occupational and private pensions are included the UK sits above a number of European countries including Russia, Norway, Switzerland and Germany.
Ferret Fact Service verdict: Mostly False
The UK has “the lowest sick pay” in Europe.
The UK’s statutory sick pay has regularly been compared to other European nations.
Statutory sick pay is the contribution that your employer must legally make towards your pay when you are unable to go to work due to illness or incapacity.
Injury compensation lawyers The Compensation Experts released a report in 2021 comparing relative sick pay through Europe. It found the UK among the lowest in Europe and one of the only countries with a fixed statutory sick pay amount — currently £99.35 per week — rather than a payment based on a percentage of your salary.
Ireland does not presently have any mandatory sick pay, although this has been announced and will be in place from 2023, initially covering three days paid per year.
Similarly to pension payments, different countries have different levels of reliance on “statutory, corporate and private forms of income protection”, which means comparisons are not always straightforward.