The Conservative manifesto – the big questions

The Conservative manifesto – the big questions

Do the numbers add up?

18 MAY 2017
The Conservatives have promised to spend more money on the NHS and build more social housing, amongst other things, while not raising income tax.
They say they will increase government revenue by cracking down on tax avoidance and evasion, introducing means testing for winter fuel payments and tightening the rules on who pays for residential care for the elderly.
But there is no balance sheet that tells us how all this is supposed to add up.
When Labour unveiled their manifesto this week, they published a costings document alongside it.
FactCheck cast doubt on some of Labour’s numbers, but the Conservatives haven’t even come up with a set of figures.
That makes it hard for us – and voters – to see how they are going to pay for all these promises.

Will there really be £8bn extra for the NHS?

The Conservatives say they will “increase NHS spending by a minimum of £8 billion in real terms over the next five years”.
There will be a big debate in the coming days about how generous that is.
The Health Foundation charity calculates that the Conservative offer would mean NHS spending per person not falling in real terms in the next two years, but say it would still fall as a percentage of GDP.
But there’s a more basic problem: the Conservatives have made promises like this before, only to be accused of fiddling the figures.
Last year Theresa May repeatedly claimed that the Tories were pumping £10bn a year more into the NHS.
This claim only stood up if you included a spending rise that had already been announced, and ignored the fact that other parts of the health budget were being cut at the same time.
The government was criticised for spinning the numbers by the health select committee, the NHS Confederation, the British Medical Association and the UK Statistics Authority.
Are they trying to pull a fast one again? We’ve reached out to the Conservatives, but haven’t had a reply yet. We’ll update if we get one.

Will they really cut immigration?

The Conservatives have restated their pledge to cut immigration to the tens of thousands – a commitment that successive Tory administrations have failed to make happen.
It’s not clear how Theresa May will keep this promise, if elected. She won’t be able to make changes which contradict the principle of the free movement of EU citizens until after Britain leaves the EU in 2019.
One thing announced today is a plan to double the amount UK businesses have to pay the government when they hire skilled non-EU migrant workers.
The Immigration Skills Charge, announced in 2015 by the Cameron government, took effect in April 2017.
UK businesses have to pay £1,000 for each skilled worker they hire from outside the EU. For every six months after that, the company pays £500, rising to £5,000 for five years of employment.
The stated intention is to “reduce demand for migrant labour and make sure British people have the right skills to fill jobs”.
That sounds like the idea is to a) cut immigration and b) use money raised to increase British workers’ skills. But we don’t know yet if either of these things is really happening.
The policy only came into force last month, so we don’t know if it’s had any effect at all on migrant numbers. But that hasn’t stopped Theresa May and team announcing today that the current charge doesn’t go far enough, and must be doubled.
There’s also no way of knowing if immigration will fall. The Tories’ rationale seems to be that if you make an overseas worker £2,000 more expensive than their UK counterpart, you’ll discourage firms from employing the foreign candidate.
“Tier 2” jobs subject to the Immigration Skills Charge include dancers (ballet and non-ballet, as apparently that’s an important distinction here), people working in film and TV, town planning technicians, company chief executives, and marketing directors.
Would the English National Ballet turn away Cuban dancing virtuoso Carlos Acosta on the basis that the government has asked for an extra £1,000? Would the board of a FTSE 100 company turn down a prospective Chief Executive because she happens to hail from outside the EU?
Has there been any effect on business behaviour at all? How much money has been raised? Has it been spent on up-skilling Brits? We don’t know.
And if there’s no data, it makes it hard to say whether doubling the charge is a good idea or not.

Will pension spending fall?

We’ve seen commentators on Twitter today complaining that the “state pension will be cut”. But that’s not strictly accurate.
At the moment the government guarantees that the state pension will rise by either earnings, prices or 2.5 per cent – whichever is the highest.
The Tories aim to downgrade this “triple lock” guarantee to a double lock – pensions will only track earnings or inflation.
The change will only happen in 2020, and there’s no guarantee that OAPs will lose out.
At the moment, inflation is running at 2.7 per cent, so if the triple lock were dropped overnight, nobody would see their pension downrated.
Today the Institute for Fiscal Studies published projections suggesting that the change might have little effect on future public finances: state pension spending in fifty years time is only 0.2 per cent of national income lower under the double lock.
This poses an interesting question: why would the Conservatives run the risk of annoying older voters by tinkering with the system, if it’s not going to save much money?
Perhaps they judge that the so-called “grey vote” is already in the bag. After all, the biggest swing from Tories to Labour at the last election was among over-65s, and recent polling suggests pensioners prefer Theresa May to Jeremy Corbyn.
By Georgina Lee and Patrick Worrall
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