Politics

Palestine, renting and child poverty: What is – and isn't – in Labour's general election manifesto

It’s looking very likely we’ll have a Labour government as of next month. Here’s what the party has in store

Keir Starmer launching the Labour Party manifesto for the 2024 general election

Keir Starmer launches the Labour Party manifesto for the 2024 general election. Image: Labour Party

The Labour Party has unveiled its manifesto ahead of next month’s general election, and it’s a broad – some might say vague – to-do list with one defining message: wealth creation.

If you believe the polls, the bookmakers, the man on the street or Tory minister Grant Shapps, Keir Starmer will walk into No 10 Downing Street as prime minister on 5 July. And this is a document setting out what he wants to do when in power.

Of course, just because something is included in a political party’s manifesto, it doesn’t mean it will actually do it (no-fault evictions anyone?), but think of it as a set of aims, the broad direction of travel.

We’ve already pored over the offerings from the Greens and the Conservatives. Here’s what’s in Labour’s 131-page manifesto – and what isn’t.

Wealth creation

Labour has “five missions to rebuild Britain” and number one is “kickstart economic growth”.

“Sustained economic growth is the only route to improving the prosperity of our country and the living standards of working people,” the Labour manifesto states. “That is why it is Labour’s first mission for government. It means being pro-business and pro-worker. We are the party of wealth creation.”

How does the party say it will create wealth? By delivering economic stability with tough spending rules, a new partnership with business, a national wealth fund, planning reform to build 1.5 million new homes, more devolution across England and a new deal for working people.

There’s not a lot in the way of spending, outside of the costed policies already announced in recent weeks.

The Social Market Foundation sums it up by saying: “The whole political premise is based on growth: if the UK exceeds expectations, even marginally, then Labour will be able to invest as it reforms public services; if not, reform will be matched with cuts, which will be politically challenging.”

No tax hikes for ‘working people‘

As previously confirmed by Starmer, there will be no tax hikes for “working people” – so no raise in income tax, national insurance or VAT. The party will pay for its “first steps in government by making the tax system fairer”.

But this is the party of wealth creation, not wealth redistribution. Unlike the Greens, there’s no wealth tax for those with assets over £10m.

Instead Labour says it will make the tax system fairer in these three ways – by ending tax breaks for private schools, which exempt them from VAT and business rates, closing ‘non-dom’ loopholes that allow mega rich people living in the UK to avoid paying tax, and introducing a proper windfall tax on the huge profits made by energy companies.

Experts, such as the Institute for Fiscal Studies, have analysed the numbers in the manifesto and concluded that no tax hikes means huge public spending if Labour does form the next government. But Starmer says that’s not the case and has said: “We are not returning to austerity”.

Workers’ rights?

“We are pro-business and pro-worker,” Stamer has said. 

Many have questioned how that is possible, and say the party’s watered-down ‘new deal for working people’ shows it’s not pro-worker at all. Unite, its biggest union backer, has even refused to endorse the manifesto, saying it does not go far enough on protecting workers’ rights.

What’s changed? After repeatedly pledging to ban zero-hours contracts altogether, the party has now rowed back, saying workers will be able to stay on zero-hours agreements if they choose to. Unite is also concerned about the party’s stance on ‘fire and rehire’ practices – where workers are fired and taken back on with worse pay and conditions.

The manifesto states Labour will introduce legislation within its first 100 days, including “banning exploitative zero hours contracts; ending fire and rehire; and introducing basic rights from day one to parental leave, sick pay and protection from unfair dismissal”.

But it also says: “We will consult fully with businesses, workers and civil society on how to put our plans into practice before legislation is passed.”

For more on workers’ rights, including disability rights and the welfare system, read our piece here.

A toughened up asylum system

“Britain is a tolerant and compassionate country,” begins the Labour manifesto section on “secure borders”.

It then goes on to describe how Labour will “stop the chaos” and go after the criminal gangs who trade in driving the “small boats crisis” through the creation of a Border Security Command, paid for with the money from the Rwanda plan.

It says it will fix the asylum backlog and close asylum hotels, while also setting up a new “returns and enforcement unit” to fast-track removals to safe countries for people “who do not have the right to stay here”. Labour will also “increase the number of safe countries that failed asylum seekers can swiftly be sent back to”.

There’s no mention of creating safe routes for asylum seekers, just a pledge to work with international partners to address humanitarian crises and strengthen support for refugees in their home region.

It doesn’t exactly scream “compassion” does it?

For more on Labour’s pledges around immigration, read our reaction piece here.

Recognising Palestine

Labour has lost voters, members and politicians over its stance on Gaza.

In its manifesto, it states: “Long-term peace and security in the Middle East will be an immediate focus. Labour will continue to push for an immediate ceasefire, the release of all hostages, the upholding of international law, and a rapid increase of aid into Gaza. Palestinian statehood is the inalienable right of the Palestinian people. It is not in the gift of any neighbour and is also essential to the long-term security of Israel. We are committed to recognising a Palestinian state as a contribution to a renewed peace process which results in a two-state solution with a safe and secure Israel alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state.

Critics have pointed out that it’s not the immediate recognition of a Palestinian state, as was included in the previous two Labour manifestos.

Also, unlike the Greens and the Lib Dems, Labour is not calling for a suspension of all arms export licences to Israel.

Ending Section 21 evictions

Labour has promised to do what the Tories couldn’t – immediately abolish so-called ‘no fault’ evictions.

But the other pledges around renting are vague.

“We will immediately abolish Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions, prevent private renters being exploited and discriminated against, empower them to challenge unreasonable rent increases, and take steps to decisively raise standards, including extending Awaab’s Law to the private sector,” the manifesto states.

Named after Awaab Ishak – a toddler who died due to exposure to damp and mould in his Rochdale home – Awaab’s Law requires landlords to take swift action to fix health hazards but currently only applies to social housing.

Other than “empowering” tenants to challenge “unreasonable” rent increases, there’s nothing to directly tackle the sky-high cost of renting.

The Renter’s Reform Coalition says “tinkering around the edges won’t suffice”. Its campaign manager Tom Darling said: “We welcome Labour’s continued commitment to ‘immediately abolish’ no fault evictions – a crucial first step to rebalance renters’ rights – as well as other proposals like extending Awaab’s Law to private renters. 

“However, we have urged all parties they need to go much further for private renters. Preventing new evictions grounds being used as no-fault evictions, and limits on how much rent can be increased within a tenancy – only then will we have a system that offers renters real security in their own homes.”

Jamie Gollings, deputy research director at the Social Market Foundation, added: “They have pledged to ‘empower renters’ to challenge severe rent hikes, although not specified how.

“As SMF has previously urged, it should look to do so by giving renters more automatic prompting when they face onerous rent increases, and reforming the dispute mechanism to tilt it in renters’ favour to remove the risk of rents going up even faster after a dispute settlement.”

For more reaction on Labour’s housing pledges, read our article here.

Gambling reforms

Labour says it’s committed to reducing gambling-related harm, but gave no details as to what its reform may look like.

“Labour will reform gambling regulation, strengthening protections,” its manifesto states. “We will continue to work with the industry on how to ensure responsible gambling.”

This will be one to keep an eye on, especially given the party’s well-established ties to the gambling industry.

Clean power by 2030 – but no green new deal

Labour’s £28bn-a-year green spending plans were watered down in February to £23.7bn over the life of the next parliament.

Despite this, its second mission statement is to “make Britain a clean energy superpower”.

One of the aspects that remained from the watered-down pledge is the creation of Great British Energy, Labour’s publicly owned energy company. The party also says it will oversee a green jobs transition that will ensure a doubling of onshore wind, triple solar power and quadruple offshore wind by 2030. 

The Labour manifesto also makes clear it will not issue new licences for oil fields “because they will not take a penny off bills, cannot make us energy secure, and will only accelerate the worsening climate crisis”. It also vows to not grant new coal licences and to ban fracking for good.

All this will be paid for by closing the loopholes in the windfall tax on oil and gas companies.

Labour calls the climate crisis “the greatest long-term global challenge that we face”. But to many young people, the party is doing nowhere near enough to tackle it.

And a post on X of a car with the slogan “Labour is on the side of drivers” didn’t help.

At the manifesto launch, a young activist from Green New Deal Rising heckled Starmer and unveiled a banner reading: “Youth deserve better.”

The group says Labour’s policies “don’t touch the sides” and are calling for the party to implement a ‘green new deal’ in the next parliament.

Alice, the activist who heckled Starmer, said: “I disrupted the manifesto launch because I feel so betrayed and disappointed by what the Labour Party is offering.

“All my life I’ve grown up hearing scientists sound the alarm time and time again on the climate emergency and the impact it will have on all of us – but it’s like politicians have plugged their ears.”

Respect orders to tackle anti-social behaviour

Labour’s third mission statement is to “take back our streets”. It plans to get tough on anti-social behaviour include introducing ‘respect orders’ – powers to ban persistent adult offenders from town centres, which it reckons will stamp out issues such as public drinking and drug use.

It also says it will introduce a Young Futures programme with a network of hubs reaching every community. These hubs will have youth workers, mental health support workers, and careers advisers on hand to support young people’s mental health and avoid them being drawn into crime.

Youth workers and mentors will also be placed in A&E units and pupil referral units, funded by full recovery of the cost of firearm licensing.

Renationalising railways and bus reforms

“We will put passengers at the heart of the service by reforming the railways and bringing them into public ownership,” Labour says. 

It plans to do this through Great British Railways, which will be responsible for investment, day-to-day operational delivery and innovations and improvements for passengers, working with publicly-owned rail operators in Wales and Scotland. Mayors will have a role in designing the services in their areas. 

On buses, the party says it will introduce new powers for local leaders to franchise local bus services and lift the ban on municipal ownership.

Breakfast clubs to tackle poverty – but no end to two-child benefit cap

Labour says it will introduce breakfast clubs to help parents through the cost of living crisis, while also bringing down the cost of school by limiting the number of branded items of uniform and PE kit schools can require.

It’s all part of the fourth mission statement, to “break down barriers to opportunity”.

But as had already been confirmed, the party won’t follow London mayor Sadiq Khan’s lead and introduce free school meals for all primary school children.

And there’s no lifting of the two-child benefit cap, which is widely recognised by economists and think tanks as the most effective way to reduce child poverty. 

The End Child Poverty Coalition says it would lift 300,000 children out of poverty and mean 800,000 would be in less deep poverty.

Jamie Gollings, deputy research director at the Social Market Foundation, said: “It is disappointing to see that the most obvious and impactful lever to address the problem at Labour’s disposal – removing the two-child benefit cap – is set to continue gathering cobwebs.”

There’s also a pledge to open 3,000 new nurseries attached to primary schools, though it does not say where it will find the staff in a sector that is already struggling to recruit people due to low pay.

Cutting NHS waiting times

Labour’s final mission statement relates to the NHS, and vows to cut NHS waiting times with 40,000 more appointments each week, during evenings and weekends. This will be paid for by cracking down on tax avoidance and non-dom loopholes.

Trans-inclusive ban on conversion therapy

Labour says “so-called conversion therapy is abuse” and has vowed to finally deliver a “full trans-inclusive ban on conversion practices, while protecting the freedom for people to explore their sexual orientation and gender identity”.

A Race Equality Act

Again, it’s all very vague, but Labour has promised to introduce a “landmark Race Equality Act”.

This, it says, will enshrine in law the full right to equal pay for Black, Asian and other ethnic minority people, strengthen protections against dual discrimination and root out other racial inequalities. 

Labour says it will also reverse the Conservatives’ decision to downgrade the monitoring of antisemitic and Islamophobic hate.

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