Comment Blog 25 November, 2019

The GEek, Conservative manifesto reaction

We read the Conservative manifesto, which didn't actually take too long. Our take below:


Fiscal rules

The Conservatives have pledged to meet day-to-day spending through revenues raised, while taking advantage of low borrowing rates to invest in capital projects. Borrowing will be capped at 3% of GDP, and if debt interest reaches 6% of revenue borrowing will be curbed. The Conservatives should, however, focus on ensuring their additional spending delivers better outcomes for citizens.


Support for school exclusions

The Conservatives have pledged to support the use of exclusions and expand alternative provision schools – despite the low quality of too many of these institutions. The Timpson Review, commissioned by the Conservative government, found that outcomes for excluded children are often poor, and they have a higher risk of being exposed to and involved in crime. A recent report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Knife Crime also raised concerns around the link between school exclusions and serious youth violence.


“Talent and genius are uniformly distributed throughout the country. Opportunity is not. Now is the time to close that gap – not just because it makes such obvious economic sense, but for the sake of simple social justice.”


Serious innovation

The Conservatives have pledged to create a new agency for high-risk, high-payoff research, at arm’s length from government. The  policy proposal is thin on detail, but if modelled similarly to the US’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the impact on the UK’s ability to deliver cutting-edge innovation could be significant. One lesson the UK could take from the DARPA experience is to make sure that the value generated through the investment in this high-risk, high-payoff research is fairly apportioned between the private and public sector.

Boosting nurse numbers

The Conservatives have pledged to introduce an annual maintenance grant worth up to £8,000 a year to help nursing students complete their training. NHS nursing bursaries were scraped in 2016 and replaced with student loans. Reinstating the bursary is a move in the right direction, especially considering that high ‘cost of living’ is among the main reasons why student nurses, midwives and allied health professionals drop out of their courses. However, for this funding to be effective it must be targeted at those who need it most.

Tackling homelessness

The Conservatives have pledged to roll out Housing First in order to “end the blight of rough sleeping”. Housing First initiatives provide people with a stable home as the priority, before attempts are made to address other needs such as substance abuse. Housing First has consistently been shown to result in housing retention rates of around 80%.

A fit for purpose FE estate

The Conservatives have committed to investing £2 billion in the further education estate, starting from 2021-22, to ensure that the entire college estate is in a “good” condition. This will address maintenance budget shortfalls that impact on provision, and colleges will be required to produce estates plans to ensure this money is spent appropriately.


Near silence on social care

The Conservatives have repeatedly pledged to ‘fix social care’, however the manifesto failed to bring forward concrete proposals on a long-term funding settlement. While the additional £1 billion per year to plug local authorities’ overstretched social care budgets is welcome, the commitment to setup a cross-party commission to decide the future of social care feels like yet another delay tactic

The housing crisis

The Conservatives have committed to extending Help to Buy from 2021 to 2023, with spending expected to total £29 billion by 2023, despite extensive criticism of the programme. Research clearly shows that the majority of beneficiaries could have bought a home without help from the scheme. The manifesto also commits to continuing to subsidise the sale of social homes through Right to Buy, further eroding the social housing stock, while failing to commit to building the number of social homes needed to ensure low-income families can afford a roof over their head.

Triple lock on tax

The Conservatives have pledged not to increase National Insurance, Income Tax or VAT over the course of the parliament. The “tax guarantee” is designed to support working families, however it would tie a Conservative Government’s hands at a time of global economic uncertainty.

Supporting those on benefits

The Conservatives have pledged to “do more to make sure that Universal Credit works for the most vulnerable” and yet says nothing about how they will achieve this. This will be key to tackling poverty.

Say What?

The Conservatives have pledged to create 10,000 additional prison places. With 18,500 prisoners held in crowded conditions this additional capacity is urgently needed. Yet, at the same time the Conservatives’ other ‘tough on crime’ pledges will increase the prison population – the decision to end the halfway release point for serious offenders, for example, could increase the prison population by 2,000 by 2030 (which is unlikely to reduce the risk of further serious offending). The numbers don’t add up.

Reform's comment:

Reform Research Manager and Health Lead, Claudia Martinez, said:

On Social Care reform:

“It is outrageous to see yet another manifesto kicking the social care funding can down the road.

“We desperately need a long-term funding solution that ensures that people can access the care they need. Instead, the Conservatives, like Labour and the Lib Dems, have ducked the biggest public services issues facing the country.

“Any plan relying on political consensus is fantasy - parliament has never been so divided. It’s time for politicians to step up and take the tough decisions, which for social care means introducing an insurance-based system. Everything else is a sticking plaster.”

On the Conservatives pledge to boost the nursing workforce by 50,000:

“This is a welcome announcement.

“It is sensible that the Conservatives have planned to improve training and retention to help boost the number of nurses. The reintroduction of maintenance grants to support trainee nurses is a smart move to encourage more into training. These grants should be means-tested so that taxpayer’s money is spent supporting the disadvantaged.”