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Sunak’s “£2000 Claim”. Was it the greatest lie ever told?

Rishi Sunak claimed on the ITV Leaders Debate that “Independent Treasury officials have costed Labour’s policies and they amount to a £2,000 tax rise for every working family”.

James Bowler, Permanent Secretary, wrote a letter to Labour’s Darren Jones stating, “As you will expect, civil servants were not involved in the production of presentation of the Conservative Party's document 'Labour's Tax Rises' or in the calculation of the total figure used.

In your letter you highlight that the £38bn figure used in the Conservative Party's publication includes costs beyond those provided by the civil service and published online by HM Treasury.

I agree that any costings derived from other sources or produced by other organisations should not be presented as having been produced by the Civil Service.

I have reminded Ministers and advisers that this should be the case.”

This has led seasoned journalist Dan Hodges to claim that this was “the most blatant lie I’ve seen in an election campaign”.

So what’s happened?  The treasury has a long tradition of costing opposition commitments.  This document by the Institute of Government provides a good summary of how this works.

Officials need policies to be clearly defined to cost them. Not all pledges made by opposition politicians are, so in these cases ministers – usually through Special Advisers – define the parameters of the policy to enable officials to cost it. The Directory of Civil Service Guidance published in 2000 describes this process as ‘identifying the text of commitments together with any further interpretations or assumptions necessary to allow the commitments to be costed’.

So, in line with this tradition, the Treasury have indeed produced a number of costings:

This is a template provided by the Civil Service for Ministers to use.  It clearly asks for additional assumptions (not provided for in the policy) to be provided by special advisers:

These costings aren’t, therefore, entirely independent because certain parameters are provided by non-independent special advisers, but nonetheless the figures are produced quite properly by the treasury.

What the Conservative Party have then done is produced a document which collates these (and includes a couple of policy announcements not costed) and produced this document:

So let’s revisit, carefully, what Sunak has actually said, ““Independent Treasury officials have costed Labour’s policies and they amount to a £2,000 tax rise for every working family”.

Misleading? Perhaps.  The greatest lie a politician has ever told?  No, not remotely.  Indeed, the exact same furore over the exact same process happened in 2015.


Hopefully this provides some context to what the issue is – and people now have some idea where the £2K figure came from.  The most dishonest part of this claim, as far as I'm concerned, is that it's over a 4 year period, not each year and they have used "working households" rather than just "households" - and so produced a higher, and more headline grabbing, figure. The £2K figure absolutely didn't come from the treasury - the method of using the treasury figures to create the figure was purely a Conservative method.

In summary, the figure is arrived at by the Conservative Party using (almost entirely) figures provided by independent treasury officials using Labour Party policy announcements coupled with certain assumptions provided by non-independent special advisers. The figure was probably designed to create a debate.

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