What the data says about some of the key issues in the general election campaign

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer make their final pitches to voters on Wednesday evening in the last leader's debate of the election campaign ahead of polling day next Thursday.

Here, Sky News looks at the positions of the leaders on some of the key issues and what the data says.

Betting scandal

Both have questions to answer about the gambling scandal that has engulfed Westminster over the past fortnight, with the number of officials and candidates implicated continuing to grow.

The Gambling Commission reportedly has a list of hundreds of wagers valued above £199 to investigate.

Mr Sunak's aide Craig Williams, and the Conservatives' chief data officer Nick Mason, as well as Labour candidate Kevin Craig and Conservative candidate Laura Saunders are known to be under investigation.

On the upside for Mr Sunak, the D Day controversy which dogged him in previous debates is likely to be less of a focus.


Taxation has been a hot issue throughout the campaign, with the prime minister repeatedly claiming that Labour secretly plans to raise taxes, while Sir Keir Starmer has attacked Mr Sunak for overseeing a historically high tax burden.

Both have pledged not to increase personal taxes, while the Conservative manifesto includes an ambition to eliminate National Insurance over time.

Neither leader has mentioned adjusting tax thresholds in line with inflation, however, meaning that tax receipts could rise under either leader regardless due to fiscal drag.

This is where more taxpayers are dragged into higher tax thresholds because their wages are rising due to inflation.

However, the Tories are quick to point out that direct tax for average earners is at its lowest level since 1975.

This is true: because of decreases in the basic rate of Income Tax under previous Labour administrations, and recent decreases in National Insurance under the Conservatives, taxes for the average earner are historically low, despite the squeeze of fiscal drag on people's tax-free allowances.

The reverse is true for high earners, however. Analysis from economic research institute the Institue for Fiscal Studies (IFS) shows that in 2010, the top 10% of income tax payers paid 54% of all Income Tax - that figure is now 60%.

Cost of living

The leaders are keenly aware that the cost of living is at the forefront of voter's minds - it is consistently cited as the top issue people consider a deciding factor in who they will vote for.

Mr Sunak defends his record on the basis of the COVID furlough scheme - which he oversaw as chancellor - and the fact inflation has finally fallen to 2%, down from a 42-year record high of 11.1% in October 2022.

But external factors worked in the PM's favour.

The worst price shocks from the war in Ukraine (namely on fuel and food) eased regardless of government policies.

However, falling inflation does not mean falling prices, and any amount of inflation still means prices are rising on top of already higher costs.

Wage growth has now overtaken inflation - but there's still a gap between how much prices have increased vs wages in the long run, according to ONS data.

This, combined with stubbornly high interest rates which increase the cost of mortgage rates and other loans, explains why people are still feeling the pinch.


The waiting list for NHS England peaked at 7.8 million last August, then inched down but has since crept up ever so slightly again from 7.54m two months in a row to 7.57m in the latest data for April.

And as other parties love to point out, it is still 300,000 appointments higher than the 7.2 million in January 2023, when Mr Sunak originally pledged to cut it.

Labour says it would get waiting times back down to a maximum of four months - as per the NHS target - by the end of their first term.

They'd do this by adding "40,000 extra appointments and operations every week", including more on evenings and weekends, and buying more equipment.

Sky News analysis has shown that these measures alone may do little to bridge the gap, however.

It takes five additional NHS appointments to remove one treatment pathway from the waiting list, according to thinktank The Heath Foundation.

With this conversion rate, Labour's 40,000 additional appointments equates to 8,000 removed from the waiting list, shown in the bar in orange in the chart above - still falling far short of tackling demand.


On Tuesday, the 50,000th person under Mr Sunak's premiership made the perilous journey in a small boat from France to England.

And 2024 now looks on track to be a record-breaking year, with more small boat crossings recorded to date than over the same time period in any previous year.

Both leaders are keen to position themselves as tough on migration, saying that the record levels of net migration since Brexit in 2016 - reaching 685,000 last year - are too high.

Mr Sunak claims his plans, which include the controversial Rwanda deportation policy and an unspecified cap on net migration numbers, are the answer.

But, as Sky News analysis has already shown, caps have failed in the past.

Former prime ministers David Cameron and Theresa May both vowed to cap net migration in the "tens of thousands". Both failed.

Meanwhile, the Rwanda policy addresses only a tiny fraction of overall numbers, despite its hefty price tag.

It is already set to cost £370m before any removals take place, according to government spending watchdog the National Audit Office (NAO), and could reach an estimated £661m.

It is designed to deter small boats crossings, but these make up only a fraction of asylum claims, and asylum seekers accounted for only 81,000 migrants last year, compared with 432,000 workers and 379,000 students.

Labour have confirmed they will scrap the scheme "straight away", while the Conservatives have a poor track record of implementing the scheme, so it remains to be seen what the final bill will be.

Nearly two thirds (64%) of 229,000 workers visas granted in 2023 were for healthcare roles like nurses and care workers.

The Tories say their Albania deal shows that deterrence works, with numbers down 90%.

Labour has pledged to "reform resettlement routes to stop people being exploited by gangs".

Climate and net zero

A key dividing line is whether to pump more oil and gas from the North Sea.

Mr Sunak wants to "max out" what's left. Labour says it would stop issuing licences for new projects.

But even though it opposes them, if elected Labour would not actually revoke those handed out by the Tories - which environmentalists have criticised.

The Conservative manifesto says more extraction would "provide energy to homes and businesses across the country".

But it's somewhat of a storm in a teacup, because there isn't much oil or gas left in the North Sea anyway.

The red and blue lines in the chart above show how much - or little - extra the UK might get from new licences - so the decision is more symbolic.

The Tories say they will back renewables, but haven’t really lifted an effective ban on onshore wind farms as promised. Labour wants to double onshore wind power to 35GW by 2030.

Labour’s plans to plug the wells in the North Sea are already putting off some oil majors from turning on the taps at existing projects - and could kill off thousands of jobs, the industry lobby group Offshore Energies UK says.

In reality the parties are more aligned than some of their members would have us believe.

Both back some form of windfall tax until 2029, want to decarbonise most or all electricity by 2030, plan to drive up EVs and want to ramp up solar and offshore wind.

Private school VAT

Labour are planning to raise £1.6bn by removing tax exemptions from private schools, meaning they would have to pay the standard 20% VAT to be levied on school fees.

Starmer says he wants to use this money directly to fund an additional 6,500 secondary school teachers.

The Conservatives have enthusiastically criticised the plan, calling it a "politics of envy and tax on aspiration".

But they are out of step with public opinion here. The reality is that a clear majority of voters back the policy, with a YouGov poll finding that 3 in 5 (62%) were behind it.