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FactCheck: low inflation and more midwives?

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 23 January 2008

The economy, midwifery numbers and Lib Dem spending plans were on the agenda in today's Prime Minister's Questions.

All quotes from Prime Minister's Questions, 23 January 2007

The claim
"Inflation in Britain is 2 per cent. In the Euro area it's 3 per cent, in America it's 4 per cent."
Gordon Brown

The analysis

Brown's on the economic offensive today, making many boasts about his stable stewardship of the country. And indeed inflation - according to the consumer price index (CPI), the Government's preferred measure - is currently at 2.1 per cent, almost bang-on the 2 per cent target. But let's not forget that last spring inflation crept up to 3 per cent, a sufficient deviation from the target that the Bank of England's governor, Mervyn King, had to write an open letter to the Chancellor to explain why.

This may have been the first such letter since the Bank was made responsible for interest rates in 1997, but it may not be the last. In a speech yesterday to the Institute of Directors, King noted that 2008 is likely to see higher energy, food and import prices "pushing inflation above the 2 per cent target".

"It is possible that inflation could rise to the level at which I would need to write an open letter of explanation, possibly more than one, to the Chancellor," he cautioned.

The sources
Bank of England
Mervyn King speech to Institute of Directors, 22 January 2007

The claim
"The figures out today show growth in Britain is 3.1 per cent last year."
Gordon Brown

The analysis

They do - although it's not all good news. In 2007, GDP increased by 3.1 per cent compared with 2006, but recently the rate of growth dropped slightly according to quarterly figures.

GDP increased by 0.6 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2007, compared with 0.7 per cent in the third quarter. The report said that an acceleration in production was more than offset by a weak growth in services.

The sources
National Statistics, GDP Growth: UK economy rose by 0.6% in Q4 2007

The claim
"It's difficult to listen to the Liberal party on economic policy - yesterday [Nick Clegg] spent another £2bn, a few weeks ago he said he had a billion pounds of extra spending commitments he couldn't justify by explaining how they'd be spent."
Gordon Brown

The analysis

Oh, those pesky opposition parties - announcing generous-sounding measures without having to, like Brown, dip into the Treasury and pay them. Yesterday the Lib Dems announced a "care guarantee", which involved providing £2bn-worth of care for all elderly people who need it, based on need rather than their ability to pay.

The policy document in which the proposal is contained, although noting that it would not be financially feasible to follow the Scottish model of free care for all, did not detail exactly how it would be paid for. One to Brown?

Not necessarily - a Lib Dem spokesperson said the party was planning to find a number of efficiency savings, to the tune of £18bn or 3 per cent of total public spending, over the course of a parliament. Cash would be reallocated towards the Lib Dems' priorities.

The exact details of the savings won't be laid out until the next election, but the likes of scrapping Child Trust Funds and ID cards and changes to tax credits for the wealthy are expected to figure. So although the additional £2bn care proposal - something that Nick Clegg has put forward for discussion at the party's spring conference - isn't, technically, funded as yet in a pound-for-pound balance-sheet sense, it's not exactly fair to say that the party couldn't afford it full stop.

The sources
Nick Clegg sets out his vision for a people's health service, Liberal Democrats, 22 January 2007
Clegg admits education funding black hole, Guardian, November 9 2007

The claim
"The number of midwives and student midwives [is] falling..." Sir Nicholas Winterton, Conservative MP and an honorary vice-president of the Royal College of Midwives "The figures show that between 1997 and now there has been an increase of 2,084 in the number of midwives, an increase of 20 per cent in the number of students entering training for midwifery..."
Gordon Brown

The analysis

In 1997, the NHS employed 22,385 midwives; the latest figures show that in 2006 there were 24,469 on the pay roll. Take one from the other, and you're left with the 2,084 extra that Brown quotes today - an increase of just over 9 per cent.

This figure is a basic headcount of midwifery staff - it doesn't take into account whether they're part-time or full-time. Look at the full-time equivalent - arguablty the more useful measure - and things are somewhat less impressive.

In 1997, there was the equivalent of 18,053 full-time midwives in the NHS. The figure dropped as low as 17,662 in 2000, but picked up to 18,949 in 2005. The most recent figures, however, saw a slight drop - to18,862.

So using this measure, the difference between 1997 and today is a more modest additional 809 full-time midwives - or a 4.5 per cent rise.

Brown does acknowledge in his answer that more needs to be done - and pledges 1,000 more midwives in years to come. Although on this basis, the 1,000 might not end up being quite as impressive as it sounds.

The sources
Hansard, 29 Oct 2007 : Column 1045W

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