BBC InDepth

Conservative manifesto: 12 key policies analysed

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Rishi Sunak

The Conservatives have launched their 2024 election manifesto. The document, external sets out what the party's plans would be, should it win the election on 4 July.

Here are some of the most eye-catching pledges.

The return of Help to Buy

Rishi Sunak says he wants to “build an ownership society”, but admitted that owning a home has become more difficult, in a BBC interview ahead of the manifesto launch. He’s set an ambitious goal of building 1.6 million homes in England in five years. However, previous targets have regularly been missed.

Part of the plan to get people onto the property ladder is a resurrection of the Help to Buy scheme, which would provide first-time buyers with an equity loan of up to 20% towards the cost of one of these new homes. However, in the past these schemes have been criticised for pushing up house prices and benefitting developers rather than buyers.

Then there’s making permanent the stamp duty threshold of £425,000 in England and Northern Ireland for first-time buyers. It means that about eight in 10 first-time buyers do not pay stamp duty, Zoopla figures show.

For renters, there is a commitment to eventually ban no-fault evictions, a policy first proposed by the party in 2019, but which has been delayed. And there’s a two-year tax-break to allow landlords to sell to existing tenants, but landlord groups say it doesn’t address shortages in homes available to let.

Tax help for the self-employed

One manifesto surprise is the abolition of National Insurance (NI) for the self-employed. Currently they pay 6% on profits between £12,570 and £50,270 and 2% above £50,270. There are more than four million self-employed people, so it is understandable why the Conservatives want to offer something.

The cut is promised by the end of the next Parliament and will cost £2.6bn a year. This comes on top of the £5bn a year cost of reducing NI for employees by a further 2p by 2027, in addition to the 4p already cut in 2024.

There is also a promise to increase the personal tax-free allowance for pensioners. This would mean future rises in the state pension - by the higher of wage rises, inflation or 2.5% (the triple lock) - will not be hit by income tax. People below pension age will pay more tax on their incomes over the next Parliament, as both the Conservatives and Labour have said they will maintain the freeze imposed when Rishi Sunak was chancellor on income tax thresholds.

Mr Sunak says these tax cuts will be paid for by a £6bn a year crackdown on tax avoidance and cutting the welfare bill by £12bn a year by the end of the next Parliament. Both savings are thought uncertain at best and unlikely at worst by analysts including the Institute for Fiscal Studies think tank.

This would apply to the whole of the UK.

Tougher sentences and new prisons

The Conservatives are pledging to toughen sentences for offences including knife crime, grooming and assaults against retail workers. But prisons have an overcrowding crisis, with officials expecting jails in England and Wales to be at full capacity over the next few weeks. This raises questions as to where these criminals would go. Prisoners are already being released early to free up space. In a 2021 White Paper the Tories promised to deliver 20,000 new prison places by the mid 2020s, described as the biggest prison-building programme in over a century. However that target has not been met, with 6,000 new places created so far. The new manifesto pledge promises four new prisons to complete this programme by 2030.

The party wants to show they are tough on crime – a stance that usually does well with its traditional supporters. It’s pledged to increase the number of community police officers by 8,000. However, some in policing tell us it’s one thing wanting to hire more officers but it’s another thing retaining them.

In April, the Metropolitan Police Federation suggested nearly a third of officers intended to resign because of low pay and morale. Recent scandals - from WhatsApp groups revealing racist views to the murder of Sarah Everard in London by a serving police officer - have all impacted recruitment, retention and morale.

This would apply to England and Wales.

Regular flights to Rwanda

The manifesto underlines the plan to send some asylum seekers to Rwanda, saying there will be a “regular rhythm of flights every month, starting this July”. It’s possible the Rwanda scheme could make it through the courts and take off but it is very difficult to see how a regular rhythm will be achieved so soon.

Ministers have already delayed the date for the first theoretical flight to no earlier than 24 July. Judges in London are grappling with around a dozen potentially major challenges, all of which could go to the Supreme Court.

And on top of that the UK’s deal with Rwanda only seems to cover, for now, sending 300 migrants. That's less than half the number who have arrived across the English Channel this month alone. Official figures show that sending 300 people will mean the UK would pay Rwanda £541m over five years - or £1.8m per transferred individual. We don’t know how much more the government has set aside if it wants monthly flights to become a reality.

This would apply to the whole of the UK.

Increased defence spending

A big theme of the Conservative campaign is the promise of security. At the heart of that is a commitment to spend 2.5% of GDP on defence spending. The current NATO target is 2%.

The manifesto talks variously about meeting the new target “by” or “in” 2030. Privately, Conservative sources made clear they planned to raise defence spending cumulatively year on year.

Their aim is to contrast themselves with Labour which is promising to meet the 2.5% target, but only when economic circumstances allow. The Tories are trying to suggest to voters that backing Labour would be a risk. Mr Sunak claimed only the Tories could keep Britain safe, in contrast to what he called “an uncertain Keir Starmer”.

This would apply to the whole of the UK.

An end to 'low-quality' degrees

The Conservatives' promise to close university courses in England with high drop-out rates - or which leave graduates no better off - builds on existing powers. The Office for Students, which regulates universities, already acts if courses fall below quality thresholds. It estimates this applies to no more than 3% of current students. If potential graduate earnings are taken into account, more courses might fall into this category.

The party wants to fund 100,000 extra apprenticeships a year by the end of the next Parliament instead. This can only happen if employers want to create them.

In schools, there's a firm focus on parents’ concerns, including requiring schools to ban the use of mobile phones during the school day. The Conservatives are also pointing to their record on improving maths and reading compared with other countries. Schools, meanwhile, are preoccupied with their stagnating budgets to maintain standards. Per-pupil funding in England is just above 2010 levels, so the promise of keeping up with inflation in the next Parliament will be welcomed.

Education is devolved so these policies would only apply in England.

Net zero without new green charges

The Conservatives continue to attempt to walk a thin line on climate. They say they'll meet their goal of reaching net zero by 2050 but without what Rishi Sunak calls “unaffordable eco-zealotry”.

The challenge is the Climate Change Committee, the UK’s independent watchdog on climate, has already warned that the UK isn't on track to meet its ambitious promise to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 68% (compared to 1990 levels) by 2030.

They're adamant there will be no new green levies or charges and promise any big new decisions on climate will be put to a vote in Parliament. Local communities will be able to vote on new onshore wind projects and low traffic neighbourhoods.

But at the same time, they say they will accelerate the rollout of renewables - trebling offshore wind, for example - and will approve new small “modular” nuclear power stations.

This would apply to the whole of the UK.

Cuts to welfare and civil service numbers

The Conservatives say they would pay for £17bn of tax cuts by 2030, including cutting National Insurance for the self-employed, by making savings elsewhere. Like all manifestos, the numbers are based on the party’s assumptions – and so open to question.

Crucially, the Tories want to save £12bn by reforming welfare payments, through reforms. But previous attempts indicate curbing the bill for disability related benefits in particular is tricky. The number not working due to long-term sickness is at a high of 2.8 million.

Equally uncertain is the money which can be saved by clamping down on those who underpay taxes.

By primarily squeezing spending plans to fund tax pledges, the Tories hope to promote a tax-cutting agenda. But look at all taxes and plans already in train – the freezing of tax thresholds – and the tax burden, revenue relative to the economy’s income, is still set to rise to its highest since 1948.

Meanwhile, funding spending pledges such as bolstering defence involves plans to cut the civil service headcount to save £3.9bn. Whitehall numbers swelled amid a pandemic and as negotiators worked on post-Brexit trade deals. But those cuts may be too ambitious – as might be plans to save £550m by cutting 5,500 NHS managers.

This would apply to the whole of the UK.

Three strikes warning for anti-social tenants

The Conservatives say they would introduce a three-strikes-and-you’re-out policy to make it easier for social housing landlords to evict tenants guilty of anti-social behaviour.

The manifesto also promises new “local connection” and “UK connection” tests for social housing in England, to ensure it is allocated "fairly". It's worth noting the homelessness charity Crisis says 90% of social homes are let to British citizens.

The party also promises to end rough sleeping – a commitment they also made in their 2019 manifesto. Between 2019 and 2023, official figures show the number of people rough sleeping in England fell by 9%. Figures fell sharply during the pandemic – during the “Everyone In” scheme – but increased by 27% last year.

Housing is devolved so these policies would only apply in England.

New dentists tied to NHS

Health and care make up a relatively small part of the manifesto.

Most Tory promises restate existing policies and targets established over the past five years, from increasing the number of doctors and nurses by 120,000 to introducing a cap on care costs next year. There was, however, room for a new initiative on dentistry, with a promise to tie new dentists into working for the NHS for a number of years after qualifying or face having to pay back their training costs.

There was also mention of the 40 new hospitals – a 2019 manifesto pledge - but that is mired in controversy with the National Audit Office warning a number of the schemes are behind schedule.

But the big missing piece of the jigsaw was funding. The manifesto only goes as far as to promise above-inflation rises each year. But this is nothing new – there has only be a handful of occasions in the history of the NHS that the budget has not risen in real terms.

A cap on social care costs

The Conservatives say they will go ahead with their proposal for an £86,000 cap on social care costs for people who are older or disabled in England if they win the election. It means no one would pay more than that for personal care over their lifetime.

The current plan is for it to be introduced in October 2025, but it’s not clear how it will be funded.

A one penny increase to National Insurance, which it was estimated would raise £12bn, was introduced to pay for it, then scrapped soon after.

Pilot schemes to test out how the care cap would work were also stopped. The early lesson from the councils involved was that there wasn’t enough money.

When I ask social care leaders if they could get a cap up and running in less than 18 months, they said it was possible but that it would need to be fully funded.

The manifesto also says councils will be given longer term finances and more will be done to attract staff.

The Conservatives are promising a legal cap on migration by getting Parliament to fix an annual number of work and family visas. That level would fall every year. The manifesto says this will protect public services but the evidence that migration damages public services, where it often fills labour gaps, is highly contested.

The government’s Migration Advisory Committee said in 2018 that the cap on high-skilled migrants should be scrapped, as these workers make a more positive contribution to the public finances.

The Migration Advisory Committee says these workers make a more positive contribution to the public finances.

Supporters of the idea say blocking business from bringing in foreign labour is a good political choice: it would force employers to invest in British workers.

We have been here before in a limited way. In 2011, then-Conservative PM David Cameron’s government imposed a skilled workers cap, but it was repeatedly criticised - not least because of its impact on the NHS - and ex-Tory PM Boris Johnson scrapped it after Brexit. So any new cap would need to learn the lessons of that scheme.

This would apply to the whole of the UK.

Clarification 13th June: This article originally explained that the Conservative Party have said in their 2024 manifesto that they will build four new prisons, providing 20,000 additional prison places. We have updated the article to make clear that the figure of 20,000 places is an existing target from a 2021 White Paper commitment to increase prison capacity by the mid-2020s, and that the new manifesto pledge is to create those places with four new prisons by 2030.