Tuesday, 30 May 2017

2017 Election Manifestos - what they have to say for benefit claimants

Oh dear, here we are again...

Part of me feels that manifestos aren't worth the computer memory they occupy: a bundle of policies designed to increase votes but which can be jettisoned later if they become inconvenient. But it is possible to become too cynical: manifestos do show us what parties care about, and where their priorities lie. Perhaps it's also useful to keep these promises on record, so that we can call parties to account if they back track on their undertakings later.

This post attempts to summarise the different parties' commitments regarding welfare benefits. It also looks at commitments that are not directly related to benefits, but are relevant to benefit claimants, the low paid (who can also be benefit claimants, of course), and other vulnerable people.

The post is sorted by subject, not by party: this is so you can easily compare what different parties say about the same thing (or if they say nothing at all about it - the gaps may say more than what is said...)

Even though there are no quotation marks, all the comments have been lifted directly from the manifestos, apart for a few changes to ensure grammatical clarity. If I haven't been able to find anything in a particular party's manifesto about an issue, I've left their space blank. This post only includes promises made in the manifestos, so you won't find assertions made by party members in the media that are not in their manifesto. There is also some unavoidable repetition, when something applies to more than one category

This is not an opinion post (despite the temptation). However, as I've had to select and digest, there is inevitably going to be some subjectivity and judgement calls:
  • I've generally, but not always, avoided vague promises that include words like 'review', 'consider', 'explore', 'examine', as these don't generally amount to much of a commitment. The exceptions are where they appear to relate to a clear  and concrete plan of action. 
  • I've also not included 
    • Undertakings that are planned to take more than one parliament to follow through to completion.
    • Stuff that might have an impact on benefits provision because of competing budgetary demands: otherwise I'd have to include everything.
    • If parties are simply committing to continue something that's already in place, I've normally left it out.
    • I've not included anything about general equalities issues, or social care.
    • Much as I've been tempted to, I have not included anything about immigration issues, except insofar as they touch on the world of social security benefits.
It's been a challenge to decide which parties to include. In the end the list is:

I apologise to the parties that have been left out, but I had to balance the need for inclusion with that of getting this finished in time to be useful.

(A note on manifesto accessibility: Labour, The Lib Dems, and the Green Party provide a wide range of different formats, including Braille, BSL, and audio. As of 29th May the Conservative Party, the SNP, and UKIP both offer no alternatives to a standard pdf (The Conservative sites asks for your details so that it can release information about accessible versions 'when they are released', and the SNP says that they are working on them, as of 30th May). )

As I said before, this is not an opinion piece, but I will offer you some advice to help you form your opinion:
  • Be wary of 'weasel words' (e.g. 'we will help the jobless back to work' and 'we won't allow the sick to languish on benefits'). Always ask: what does this really mean?
  • Don't be too excited by very positive sounding pledges from smaller parties: the less likely a party is to form part of a government, the less likely it is that it will have to bear responsibility for not keeping to its pledges!
  • Be suspicious of vagueness

I have tried to be fair and thorough, but if you think I've left something substantive out, please let me know via the comments section.

To jump directly to any specific subject, click on the relevant link below:

Commitments that are directly related to benefits

Young people

Claimants with health problems and/or disabilities

Carers

Commitments that are relevant to the vulnerable, including benefit claimants

Minimum wage and living wage


Commitments that are directly related to benefits 


Young people


=Conservatives:

=Labour:
  • We will reinstate Housing Benefit for under-21s

=Liberal Democrats:
  • We will help young people in need by reversing cuts to housing benefit for 18-21-year-olds and increase the rates of Jobseeker’s Allowance and Universal Credit for those aged 18-24 at the same rate as minimum wages.

=UKIP:

=Green:
  • We will protect young people’s housing needs by reinstating housing benefit for under 21s and reverse housing benefits cuts.
=SNP:

  • SNP MPs will support restoration of housing support for 18 to 21 year olds across the UK.


=Labour
  • We will increase Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) by £30 per week for those in the work-related activity group, and repeal cuts in the UC limited capacity for work element.
  • We will implement the court decision on Personal Independence Payment (PIP) so that there is real parity of esteem between those with physical and mental-health conditions.
  • We will end the pointless stress of reassessments for people with severe long-term conditions.
  • We will change how Jobcentre Plus staff are performance-managed.

=Liberal Democrats:
  • We will reverse cuts to Employment Support Allowance to those in the work-related activity group.
  • We will scrap the discredited Work Capability Assessment and replace it with a new system, run by local authorities according to national rules, including a ‘real world’ test that is based on the local labour market.
  • We will improve links between Jobcentres and Work Programme providers and the local NHS to ensure all those in receipt of health-related benefits are getting the care and support to which they are entitled.
=UKIP:
  • The current Work Capability Assessments are not fit for purpose. We will reform them in consultation with disabled people and disability charities. 
=Green:

=SNP:
  • Under the Tories, from April this year, disabled and ill people assessed as not fit for work have lost out on £29 per week from their Employment and Support Allowance. SNP MPs will support reversal of this cut.
  • SNP MPs will call for the current work capability assessment to be halted, and a new system to be put in place which treats everyone with fairness and respect, helping people into employment rather than crisis.
  • SNP MPs will urge the UK government to follow the lead of the Scottish Government to review Personal Independence Payments, ensuring assessments, descriptors and award times are appropriate and rooted in respect and dignity.
  • To stop the revolving door of disability assessments and reintroduce long term awards for those with long term conditions we have established a Disability Benefits Assessment Commission to provide recommendations and guidance on eligibility and conditions [Scotland only].

Carers


=Conservatives:

=Labour:
  • We will increase Carer’s Allowance by £11 to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance.

=Liberal Democrats:
  • We will raise the amount people can earn before losing Carer’s Allowance from £110 to £150 a week, and reduce the number of hours’ care per week required to qualify.

=UKIP:
  • We recommit to giving carers an extra five days’ paid holiday each year, and increasing Carer’s Allowance from £62.70 per week to £73.10 a week, to match the higher level of Job Seeker’s Allowance.

=Green:

=SNP:
  • The SNP will increase Carer’s Allowance to the level of Jobseekers Allowance.


Work-seeking claimants, and those in low-paid work


=Conservatives:

=Labour:
  • The cuts to work allowances in Universal Credit (UC), and the decision to limit tax credit and UC payments to the first two children in a family, are an attack on low-income families and will increase child poverty. Labour will reform and redesign UC, ending six-week delays in payment and the ‘rape clause’.

=Liberal Democrats:
  • We will separate employment support from benefits administration – making Jobcentres places of training and support into work.
  • We will encourage people into work by reversing the cuts to Work Allowances in Universal Credit, enabling people to work for longer before their benefits are cut.

=UKIP:

=Green:

=SNP:


Families with children


=Conservatives:

=Labour:
  • The cuts to work allowances in Universal Credit (UC), and the decision to limit tax credit and UC payments to the first two children in a family, are an attack on low-income families and will increase child poverty. Labour will reform and redesign UC, ending six-week delays in payment and the ‘rape clause’.

=Liberal Democrats:
  • We will take 13,000 children out of poverty by letting both parents earn before their Universal Credit is cut and also reverse cuts to the Family Element.
  • Abandon the two-child policy on family benefits and abolish the Conservatives’ ‘rape clause’ where a woman has to declare children that are born as a result of rape in order to access benefits.

=UKIP:
  • We will limit child benefit to two children for new claimants.

=Green:

=SNP:
  • The SNP strongly opposes the cap that restricts Child Tax Credits to the first two children and the removal of the family element of Universal Credit
  • We oppose the ruthless and inhumane Rape Clause which forces women to relive the ordeal of rape in order to claim tax credits for third or subsequent children
  • We will extend the eligibility to Winter Fuel Payment to families with severely disabled children.

Older people


=Conservatives:
  • We will keep our promise to maintain the Triple Lock until 2020, and when it expires we will introduce a new Double Lock, meaning that pensions will rise in line with the earnings that pay for them, or in line with inflation – whichever is highest. 
  • We will also ensure that the state pension age reflects increases in life expectancy, while protecting each generation fairly.
  • We will means-test Winter Fuel Payments, focusing assistance on the least well-off pensioners, who are most at risk of fuel poverty. 
  • We will maintain all other pensioner benefits, including free bus passes, eye tests, prescriptions and TV licences, for the duration of this parliament.

=Labour:
  • Labour will guarantee the state pension ‘triple lock’ throughout the next Parliament. It will rise by at least 2.5 per cent a year or be increased to keep pace with inflation or earnings, whichever is higher.
  • The Winter Fuel Allowance and free bus passes will also be guaranteed as universal benefits.
  • Labour will legislate so that accrued rights to the basic state pension cannot be changed, but future benefits can.
  • The pension age is due to rise to 66 by the end of 2020. Labour rejects the Conservatives’ proposal to increase the state pension age even further. We will commission a new review of the pension age, specifically tasked with developing a flexible retirement policy to reflect both the contributions made by people, the wide variations in life expectancy, and the arduous conditions of some work.

=Liberal Democrats:
  • We will maintain the ‘triple lock’ of increasing the state pension each year by the highest of earnings growth, prices growth or 2.5% for the next parliament
  • We will withdraw eligibility for the Winter Fuel Payment from pensioners who pay tax at the higher rate (40%). We will retain the free bus pass for all pensioners.

=UKIP:

=Green:

=SNP:
  • We will vote to protect the Triple Lock, ensuring that pensions continue to rise by inflation, earnings or 2.5 per cent - whatever is the highest.
  • SNP MPs will oppose plans to increase the State Pension Age beyond 66. 
  • We will protect the Winter Fuel Payment.


Housing benefit


=Conservatives:

=Labour:
  • We will scrap the Bedroom Tax.

=Liberal Democrats:
  • We will increase Local Housing Allowance (LHA) in line with average rents in an area, ensuring that LHA is enough for a family to pay their housing costs no matter where they live.
  • We will scrap the ‘bedroom tax’, while seeking to achieve the aim of making best use of the housing supply through incentivising local authorities to help tenants ‘downsize’.
=UKIP: 
  • We will scrap the bedroom tax.
  • We will give tenants the right to request Housing Benefit is paid direct to their landlords, whatever benefit scheme they are on

=Green: 
  • We will abolish the cruel and unfair bedroom tax.

=SNP:
  • SNP MPs will continue to demand that the Bedroom Tax is scrapped across the UK.


Miscellaneous


=Conservatives:

=Labour:
  • We will scrap the punitive sanctions regime
  • We will scrap cuts to Bereavement Support Payment

=Liberal Democrats:
  • We will uprate working-age benefits at least in line with inflation.
=UKIP:

=Green:

=SNP:
  • We will call for the end of the cash freeze that the Tories have imposed on many benefits, leaving families struggling as the cost of living rises. Instead, we will support the annual uprating of all benefits by at least CPI inflation.
  • The SNP will continue to call for the current sanction regime to be scrapped.
  • SNP MPs will continue to argue for a complete halt to the roll out of Universal Credit until it is designed to treat everyone with fairness and respect, and will continue to call for it to be fully devolved to Scotland.
  • SNP MPs will continue to fight for an end to premium-rate telephone charges faced by those seeking advice on or claiming benefits from the DWP.
  • SNP MPs will support the reversal of the cuts to Bereavement Payments and Widowed Parents’ Allowance. 

Commitments that are relevant to the vulnerable, including benefit claimants


Minimum wage and living wage


=Conservatives:
  • A new Conservative government will continue to increase the National Living Wage to 60 per cent of median earnings by 2020 and then by the rate of median earnings,

=Labour:
  • We will Raise the Minimum Wage to the level of the Living Wage (expected to be at least £10 per hour by 2020) – for all workers aged 18 or over, so that work pays.

=Liberal Democrats:
  • We will establish an independent review to consult on how to set a genuine living wage across all sectors. We will pay this living wage in all central government departments and their agencies, and encourage other public-sector employers to do likewise.

=UKIP:
  • We will enforce the minimum and living wage and reverse government cuts to the number of minimum wage inspectors in England and Wales

=Green:
  • We will create a fairer working world for young people by scrapping age- related wage bands and raising the national minimum wage to living wage levels for all.

=SNP:

  • We will support moves over the next Parliament to increase the Minimum Wage to the level of the real Living Wage.



Zero-hours contracts, agency work, and related issues


=Conservatives:

=Labour:
  • We will ban zero hours contracts – so that every worker gets a guaranteed number of hours each week.

=Liberal Democrats:
  • We will stamp out abuse of zero-hours contracts. We will create a formal right to request a fixed contract and consult on introducing a right to make regular patterns of work contractual after a period of time.

=UKIP:
  • We will significantly tighten up rules on zero hours contracts and severely limit their use.

=Green:

=SNP:
  • The SNP will press the UK government to ban exploitative zero-hours contracts, and ensure that workers have appropriate rights and protections, including holiday and sick pay.

Housing


=Conservatives:
  • We will meet our 2015 commitment to deliver a million homes by the end of 2020 and we will deliver half a million more by the end of 2022.
  • We will enter into new Council Housing Deals with ambitious, pro-development, local authorities to help them build more social housing.
=Labour:
  • By the end of the next Parliament we will be building at least 100,000 council and housing association homes a year for genuinely affordable rent or sale.
  • Labour will make new three-year tenancies the norm, with an inflation cap on rent rises. 
  • We will legislate to ban letting agency fees for tenants.
  • The Labour government would introduce new legal minimum standards to ensure properties are unfit for human habitation’ and empower tenants to take action if their rented homes are sub-standard.
  • We will remove government restrictions that stop councils building homes and begin the biggest council building programme for at least 30 years. 
  • We will ditch the Conservatives’ ban on long-term council tenancies to give council tenants security in their homes.
  • Labour will suspend the right-to-buy policy to protect affordable homes for local people, with councils only able to resume sales if they can prove they have a plan to replace homes sold like-for-like.

=Liberal Democrats:
  • We will help people who cannot afford a deposit by introducing a new Rent to Own model where rent payments give tenants an increasing stake in the property, owning it outright after 30 years.
  • We will improve renting by banning lettings fees for tenants, capping upfront deposits and increasing minimum standards in rented homes.
  • We will help young people into the rental market by establishing a new Help to Rent scheme to provide government-backed tenancy deposit loans for all first-time renters under 30.
  • We will ensure that all local authorities have at least one provider of the Housing First model of provision for long-term, entrenched homeless people.
  • We will promote longer tenancies of three years or more with an inflation-linked annual rent increase built in, to give tenants security and limit rent hikes. 
  • We will improve protections against rogue landlords through mandatory licensing and
  • allow access for tenants to the database of rogue landlords and property
  • agents.
  • We will end the Voluntary Right to Buy pilots that sell off housing association homes and the associated high value asset levy. 
  • We will lift the borrowing cap on local authorities and increase the borrowing capacity of housing associations so that they can build council and social housing. 
  • We will scrap exemptions on smaller housing development schemes from their obligation to provide affordable homes, and strengthen the hand of local government to prevent large developers reneging on their commitments. 
  • We will require local plans to take into account at least 15 years of future housing need – focusing on long-term development and community needs.
  • We will enable local authorities to: levy up to 200% council tax on second homes and ‘buy to leave empty’ investments from overseas; enforce housebuilding on unwanted public sector land; penalise excessive land-banking when builders with planning permission have failed to build after three years; and end the Right to Buy if they choose.
  • Work with local authorities to deliver a significant increase in social and affordable housing in rural areas.


=UKIP:
  • We will roll out high quality, low cost factory- built modular (FBM) homes, affordable on the national average wage of £26,000. Homes constructed will be sold on a freehold basis to first time buyers up to the age of 40 who are British citizens and who have a 10 per cent deposit.

=Green:
  • We will introduce a living rent for all through rent controls and more secure tenancies for private renters, an end to letting fees and the introduction of mandatory licensing for all landlords.
  • We will give tenants a voice by supporting the development of renters’ unions.
  • We will introduce a major programme to build affordable, zero carbon homes, including 100,000 social rented homes each year by 2022.
  • We will end mass council house sales and scrap Right to Buy at discounted prices.
  • We will take action on empty homes to bring them back into use and a trial of a Land Value Tax to encourage the use of vacant land and reduce speculation.
  • We will help first-time buyers by aiming for house price stability - axing buy-to-let tax breaks, and backing community-led approaches to building affordable homes.
  • We will significantly improve housing choice for deaf, disabled and older people by requiring all councils to appropriately plan for their housing needs and significantly increase the numbers of homes built to lifetime home and mobility standards over the next 5 years.

=SNP:


Homelessness


=Conservatives:
  • We will continue to combat homelessness and rough sleeping including through full implementation of the Homelessness Reduction Act. Our aim will be to halve rough sleeping over the course of the parliament and eliminate it altogether by 2027. To achieve this we will set up a new homelessness reduction taskforce that will focus on prevention and affordable housing, and we will pilot a Housing First approach to tackle rough sleeping.

=Labour:
  • We will set out a new national plan to end rough sleeping within the next Parliament, starting by making available 4,000 additional homes reserved for people with a history of rough sleeping. 
  • We will also take action to tackle the root causes of homelessness, including safeguarding homeless hostels and other supported housing.
=Liberal Democrats:
  • We will end the scandal of rough sleeping by increasing support for homelessness prevention and adequately funding age-appropriate emergency accommodation and supported housing,
  • We will ensure that all local authorities have at least one provider of the Housing First model of provision for long-term, entrenched homeless people.

=UKIP:

=Green:
  • We will stop declaring people as ‘intentionally homeless’ and give Local Authorities the same duties towards single people and childless couples as to families.

Childcare


=Conservatives:
  • We will introduce, this year, thirty hours of free childcare for three and four-year-olds for working parents who find it difficult to manage the costs of childcare. 

=Labour:
  • We will overhaul the existing childcare system in which subsidies are given directly to parents who often struggle to use them, and transition to a system of high-quality childcare places in mixed environments with direct government subsidy.
  • Maintain current commitments on free hours and make significant capital investment during our first two years of government, to ensure that the places exist to meet demand.
  • Phase in subsidised provision on top of free-hour entitlements, to ensure that everyone has access to affordable childcare, no matter their working pattern.

=Liberal Democrats:
  • Provide 15 hours a week of free childcare to the parents of all two-year-olds in England. We will then prioritise 15 hours’ free childcare for all working parents in England with children aged between nine months and two years.
  • Commit to an ambitious long-term goal of 30 hours’ free childcare a week for all parents in England with children aged from two to four years, and all working parents from the end of paid parental leave to two years. This will not only help parents afford to work, but will also help all children start school confident, happy and ready to learn.

=UKIP:
  • UKIP will allow parents to use their free childcare entitlements to access a greater choice of childcare providers by removing restrictions limiting them only to Ofsted-registered childcare providers. 
  • We will extend the primary school day by offering wrap-around childcare from 8am to 6pm during term time
  • We will require local authorities to keep a register of childcare providers willing to provide emergency childcare cover at short notice

=Green:
  • We will provide free universal early education and childcare for all children, with formal education starting at age 7.

=SNP:

  • By 2021 we will increase the provision of free early years education and childcare to 30 hours [Scotland only]


Social security and employment tribunals


=Conservatives:

=Labour:
  • We will abolish employment tribunal fees – so that people have access to justice.

=Liberal Democrats:
  • We will strengthen enforcement of employment rights, including by bringing together relevant enforcement agencies and scrapping employment tribunal fees.

=UKIP:

=Green:

=SNP:

  • SNP MPs will call for the UK government to follow the lead of the Scottish Government by abolishing fees for Employment Tribunals.



Support for advice services


=Conservatives:

=Labour:

=Liberal Democrats:

=UKIP:

=Green:



=SNP:

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