Prime Minister Boris Johnson has sparked criticism for appearing to dismiss statistics on life expectancy and cancer death rates when talking about his plan to “level up” Britain.
Johnson made the remarks while he was discussing what the Tory manifesto pledge means for the North of England with political correspondent Luke Walton on BBC Look North, ahead of the Conservative party conference which begins on Sunday.
The program reported an increase in child poverty in the northeast, while thousands will be affected by the government’s decision to cut back Universal Credit payments by £20 per week, it said.
During the interview, Johnson said the government will “of course” provide help to families that need it and added how the northeast has “incredible prospects.”
Walton tells Johnson that critics have described the government’s “levelling up” plans as an “empty slogan” because “there is no way of actually measuring it.”
Johnson then interjects, telling the reporter that he had just given him examples. The PM had just explained how “the northeast is still the only part of the UK which is a net exporter” and listed off new investments including the new port at Teesside, “mega investments coming in from Nissen”, the Envision gigafactory as well and the economic campus at Darlington.
Walton acknowledges that Johnson gave examples of businesses, but before he could continue his line of questioning Johnson starts talking again, and what he said has caused outrage online.
“I’ve given you the most important metric, which is – never mind life expectancy, never mind cancer outcomes – look at wage growth,” he said.
“Wage growth is now being experienced faster by those in low-incomes,” he added, as Walton can be heard at the same time saying “in the short-term.”
“You say that, but it hasn’t happened in ten years or more and that is what I mean by levelling up,” Johnson replied.
Since the interview was aired yesterday, people have shared their dismay at the Prime Minister, accusing him of showing an “outrageous” disregard for the health of British citizens.
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner was among those from the opposition party who reshared the clip.
Labour MP for Leicester South Jon Ashworth shared a grave statistic to highlight the importance of life expectancy and cancer outcomes. “If cancer incidence and survival rates across the poorest matched the wealthier there would be 19,000 fewer deaths per year.”
He added: “Life & death matters.”
Another Labour MP, this time Wansbeck’s Ian Lavery, described Johnson’s comments as a “ghastly appalling disregard for our people.”
Meanwhile, other people also shared their anger at Johnson’s quote and pointed out that a decent wage is no use if you’re already six feet under.
Government figures revealed last month that life expectancy for men has fallen for the first time since records began.
And, according to Macmillan Cancer Support, more than half a million cancer patients are missing out on vital healthcare support due to severe staff shortages across the NHS.
Moving on, Walton then asks Johnson if he will commit to being judged at the next election on whether his government is able to bring unemployment down in the region.
“I want to see jobs created in the northeast,” the prime minister said, but Walton insisted on a yes or no answer to this metric.
“I will tell you something, the whole government will work its guts out to achieve that.” Johnson replied.
That’s not the yes or no answer Walton was looking for…