Author Mark Richards

With just over two weeks to go to the General Election the Conservatives – despite a recent wobble – are still on course for victory. What does the conservative manifesto mean for people on low to middle incomes?  

You have to say that several members of the Cabinet – or ‘Theresa May’s team’ as we must learn to call them – did not look entirely happy to find themselves at Dean Clough in Halifax last week. 170 miles from the comforts of London and required to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as their leader stepped onto a makeshift stage to launch the Conservative manifesto.

Why Halifax? Because the constituency is currently held by Holly Lynch for Labour with a majority of just 428. Given the opinion polls, current Conservative candidate Chris Pearson must have spent Friday and Saturday preparing his maiden speech.

By and large the conservative manifesto – and the Prime Minister’s presentation of it – was greeted with approval, especially from her supporters. ‘At last,’ said the Daily Mail, ‘A politician prepared, to be honest with the electorate: a grown-up politician treating the electorate as grown-ups.’

Her opponents were rather less kind: ‘10 million OAPs to lose winter fuel cash,’ said the Mirror. ‘May rejects the caring legacy of Cameron,’ declared the Guardian.

And by Sunday morning, the picture was looking even less rosy. ‘Tory wobble as cuts for elderly slash May’s lead,’ was the Sunday Times headline. The Mail on Sunday was rather blunter: their headline – going right to the heart of the Mrs May’s problem – was ‘the Dementia Tax backlash.’

So what was the ‘Dementia Tax’ and – more generally – what were the key points of the Conservative manifesto? Her poll lead may have slipped, but Theresa May still looks on course for victory on June 8th.

Key points of the Conservative manifesto

The first thing to say is that the Conservative manifesto was 84 pages of fairly dense text. It was not a document that you could read with a glass of wine at your elbow. But let’s try and pick out the key points that affect ordinary people and attracted all the headlines.

Long Term Care, Short Term Wobble

  • The ‘cost of care’ threshold will rise from £23,000 to £100,000 but it will now include the value of someone’s home – even for those receiving care at home. Although payment can be deferred until after death it is this move that has been dubbed the ‘Dementia Tax.’ The move is intended to make the care system fairer and ensure that ‘no family’s nest egg can fall below £100,000’ – but by Sunday it was widely seen as an own goal
  • Winter fuel payments are going to be means-tested, taking £300 away from wealthier pensioners
  • Free school lunches for all infants are to be scrapped, a move which the Observer estimated will ‘hit 900,000 poor children.’ Instead, schools will offer a free breakfast across all the primary years
  • As far as taxation goes, there was a pledge to increase the personal allowance to £12,500 and the higher rate tax band to £50,000 by 2020
  • There will also be more investment in infrastructure, with the Manifesto committing to “deliver the road, rail and broadband that business needs.”

How does this compare to the Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos?

Despite the slump in the Conservative numbers over the weekend, there is no sign of the much vaunted ‘Lib Dem revival.’ So let us first look at the key points of the Labour manifesto.

First and foremost Labour is committed to an increase in the minimum wage to £10 an hour by 2020. They want to abolish university tuition fees (as of this morning, from September 2017) and nationalise, or re-nationalise, the railways, the Royal Mail, water and gas and electricity supply. They would continue with Brexit, but would not leave the EU without an agreement in place – something Theresa May seems entirely ready to do.

The Liberal Democrats have nailed their colours very firmly to staying in Europe. They are promising a second Brexit referendum, with ‘no, let’s stay in after all’ as one of the options, free lunch at primary school, keeping the triple lock on pensions, a reversal of the welfare cuts, votes for 16 year olds and the legalisation of cannabis and the £1bn a year tax proceeds that would apparently flow from it.

What will it all mean for those on low to middle incomes?

When she first walked into Downing Street Theresa May made much of helping those people who were ‘just about managing.’ Will the coming election make a significant difference to the lives of those on lower to middle incomes? It seems unlikely.

Although the increase in the personal allowances and the higher rate threshold are to be welcomed, the overall tax burden in this country has been steadily increasing for the last 15-20 years and one projection suggests it will hit its highest level since 1969 under the next Conservative government – and would be higher still under Labour and Liberal Democrat plans.

The simple fact is that the increasing population of the UK, and the steadily increasing proportion of old and very old people, puts a huge strain on the NHS and the social care budget. Working families may well find themselves ‘squeezed at both ends’ – forced to contribute to the costs of their parents’ care and at the same time seeing their children affected by school budgets that are decreasing in real terms. In the face of this, promises to crack down on ‘rip-off’ energy and rail companies will seem like scant compensation.  

Five more years of Theresa May

Theresa May has taken the view that a vote for Brexit was not just a vote to leave the EU: in many constituencies, especially in the North of England, it was a vote against unemployment, a lack of investment, the ever-increasing importance of London and the South-East and yes, a vote against immigration and the changing face of local communities.

That is why so many people seem prepared to desert traditional, almost tribal, ties to Labour. They see more important things than Brexit and, in Theresa May, they see a woman who will meet those concerns. That is why May is likely to stick with the ‘Dementia Tax:’ it may be unpopular in the south of England but it could strike a chord in crucial constituencies in Labour heartlands. If it does that, lost votes in the south will be a price worth paying.

In any election, you take on the ‘grey vote’ at your peril. After all, it is the elderly who are most likely to vote. But the vicar’s daughter has made a great play of her honesty and commitment: it may not be great news for the working population, but she will not take a step backwards now.