Manifesto Check: Labour’s top policies

High five. Stefan Rousseau/PA

Welcome to The Conversation’s Manifesto Check, where academics subject each party’s election manifesto to unbiased, expert scrutiny. Here is what our experts had to say about Labour’s top policies. Follow the links for further analysis.

Economy

Jonathan Perraton, Senior Lecturer in Economics at University of Sheffield

Labour’s pledge not to raise the basic rate of income or corporation tax, VAT or National Insurance will make eliminating the budget deficit challenging. There are, though, clear differences between Labour’s proposals and those of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. The timescale for eliminating the deficit is longer, and Labour has still allowed itself room to borrow to finance investment -– how much remains unclear.

In other respects there are strong similarities between Labour’s proposals and those of the coalition partners. The same key budgets are ring-fenced – health, education and foreign aid (though Labour includes higher and further education whereas the Conservatives appear only to be ring-fencing the schools budget). Incidentally, the aid budget is tiny, at around 1.4% of government expenditure.

This means that cuts – the Labour manifesto explicitly uses the term – would have to fall on those departmental budgets that have already borne the brunt of these under the coalition. There is an explicit commitment to cap the welfare budget. Although winter fuel payments would be ended for wealthier pensioners, as with the coalition, the burden would fall on working age benefits. This is partly linked to other measures to help workers – raising the minimum wage and promoting the living wage should reduce working tax credits and promoting house building should help to reduce the housing benefits bill.

Although Labour makes a concerted attempt to cost its commitments and indicate how they would be funded, questions remain. Cost savings, closing tax loopholes and clamping down on tax evasion are measures that governments regularly propose, but it isn’t clear that they would be sufficient.

Read more here.

Education

Christine Merrell, Reader in Education, Durham University

Labour says it will “restore the role of Sure Start centres as family hubs”. It makes sense to provide the best possible care and educational opportunities in the early years of children’s lives, but do Sure Start centres represent the most effective method? And are they likely to contribute to closing the attainment gap seen between children from disadvantaged backgrounds and those from more affluent environments?

Let’s take a look at recent experience. Following their election in 1997, Labour pledged to improve services, including educational provision, with the aim of reducing the impact of poverty and social deprivation in England. The Sure Start initiative was introduced.

The National Evaluation of Sure Start team did find some positive impacts on a range of factors including three-year-olds’ personal and social development, but there has been criticism of the initiative. Early childhood education experts have stated that:

These interventions have been undertaken in a piecemeal fashion and so far have had only a very partial impact in breaking the link between poverty and poor educational attainment.

Read more here.

Steve Higgins, Professor of Education at Durham University

Labour sees education as an investment, in terms of both personal fulfilment and economic prosperity, and intends to protect the education budget from early years to post-16 education. It also acknowledges that the education of half of the school population in secondary schools needs serious re-thinking. Its manifesto identifies six key policy areas as:

  • Introducing a new Technical Baccalaureate for 16 to-18-year olds
  • Protecting the education budget from early years through to post-16 education
  • Guarantee that all teachers in state schools will be qualified, with the re-introduction of qualified teacher status
  • Appointing Directors of School Standards to drive up standards in every area
  • Capping class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds at 30 or under
  • Ensuring all young people study English and Maths to age 18

It is certainly the case that post-16 education is a mess and needs significant attention. Labour’s plans are for flagship Institutes of Technical Education as trail-blazers, but how they will raise the standard and status of vocational and technical education, a worthy aspiration, is unclear.

Read more here.

Hilary Steedman, Senior Research Associate at London School of Economics and Political Science

Labour’s election manifesto promises four initiatives in the area of skills and apprenticeships; the Compulsory Jobs Guarantee, the Apprenticeship Guarantee, the Youth Allowance, and the Technical Baccalaureate. It is not clear whether the party’s priority is to cut the benefits bill and take young people off the unemployment register, or to ensure that all young people gain the skills and experience they need to make the transition to a job with a future. Ultimately, Labour’s skills policy is a disappointing muddle.

Read more here.

Claudia Hupkau, Research Associate at London School of Economics and Political Science

In its manifesto, Labour proposes a Technical Baccalaureate – but actually, this already exists. It was announced in 2013 by the Department for Education and then-Skills Minister Mathew Hancock. But rather than being a separate qualification it was designed as a measure to use in performance tables.

Read more here.

EU relations

Anand Menon, Professor of European Politics and Foreign Affairs, King’s College London

The Labour manifesto sets out several ambitions with regard to the EU. First, a clear preference for membership. The case the party makes is largely, though not exclusively, economic. The manifesto argues that more than three million UK jobs are “linked to trade with the European Union”. This is convincing to a point. Certainly, the figure tallies with one produced back in 2000, when a South Bank University report estimated some 3,445,000 jobs in the UK “depend on exports to the EU”. The problem is that no one can know how many of these jobs would disappear in the event that the UK left the union.

The issue here is what EU buffs now refer to as “the counter factual”. What would be the alternative to membership? If Britain negotiated a deal similar to that enjoyed by Norway, then exports might continue pretty much as they are. If, however, Brexit involved exclusion from the single market, the impact on jobs, and on the economy as a whole would, according to most economic studies, be far more serious.

Read more here.

Health

Maria Goddard, Professor of Health Economics at University of York

No party will go into the election suggesting that the NHS should receive less government funding given the increasing demands on the NHS and the size of the projected funding gap. The challenge is how much extra is “enough” and on what will it be spent. The Labour strategy targets investment towards increasing staff numbers in order to allow more time"time to care" – in particular nurses, GPs, midwives and home-care workers. The NHS employs 1.2 million people in full-time employment and although overall staff numbers have increased in most years over the past decade, the biggest growth has been in consultants. Meanwhile GPs and nurses have seen more modest growth.

Given that recent concerns have focused on the safety implications of staffing levels, particularly in relation to hospital nurses; and as the extra demand faced by accident and emergency departments has at least, in part, been blamed on lack of access to GPs, these plans may help improve access and quality. However, the devil will be in the detail if these investments are to pay off in the longer term.

Read more here.

Immigration

Ian Preston, Professor of Economics at UCL

Labour’s commitment to controlling immigration had already been made clear by its announcement as one of Labour’s five election pledges. But the party’s manifesto goes further to explain the policies, and how they would be implemented.

The party declares that it wishes to “look outward”, while recognising “public anxiety” and the people’s need “to feel secure in the strength of our borders.” The manifesto identifies specific public concerns, such as effects on wages, public services and “our shared way of life”. Public anxiety is undeniable, and according to research, social concerns may be more significant than economic ones.

No view is advanced by Labour as to whether these concerns are well-founded: research suggests that economic concerns, for example, are not. The evidence fails to point persuasively to any adverse impact on average wages or employment. As regards public finances, research shows that recent immigrants both contribute more in taxes than they withdraw in calls on public services and provide much of the staffing for some parts of the public sector.

Restricting immigration might assuage public concern, but it could also fail to achieve gains in average wages, and lead to less healthy public finances.

Read more here.