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From the NHS to levelling up: Here are all the broken promises after 14 years of Tory rule

It's a long, long list...

Left to right: David Cameron, Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak. Credit: Flickr / number 10, Tim Hammond / No 10 Downing Street, screengrab.

Promises are the currency of politics – and over the past 14 years of Conservative rule, we’ve heard plenty of them.

Since David Cameron picked up the keys to Downing Street, successive Tory prime ministers have vowed sweeping changes to housing, health, poverty and immigration.

Theresa May “promised” an end to austerity. Boris Johnson pledged a “solemn duty to deliver on each and every one of [his 2019 election] commitments”. And most recently, Rishi Sunak told the British public “I will only promise what I can deliver – and I will deliver what I promise.”

So, how’s that all going?

As an election campaign looms, we thought we’d check in on some of the biggest broken Tory pledges.

Build 300,000 new homes per year

In 2019, the Tories promised to hit their housebuilding target of 300,000 new homes a year.

But government statistics paint a grim picture of this goal. In the years 2021-22 and 2022-23, England gained just under 235,000 new homes a year. The Construction Products Association currently estimates the government will miss its 300,000 homes a year target by 40%.

Failure to build enough homes each year means the gap between housing supply and demand grows further, exacerbating the housing crisis leading to soaring rents and a rise in street homelessness.

End rough sleeping

Also in 2019, the Tories pledged to end rough sleeping “for good”. Yet the number of people sleeping rough across England has skyrocketed in the last year.

The annual rough sleeping snapshot released in February found an estimated 3,898 people were homeless on the streets on a single night in autumn 2023, up more than a quarter on the 3,069 people counted in 2022.

Campaigners recently told the Big Issue that there was “no doubt” the government would fail to meet its rough sleeping promise.

Ban no-fault evictions

Theresa May vowed to ban “unfair” no-fault evictions way back in 2019. In the five years since she made this promise, more than 90,000 renters have been threatened with the hated Section 21 notices. This includes 2,682 people in the first quarter of this year alone.

The Renters Reform Bill – the legislation to scrap them – has been stalled and “diluted”, campaigners say. Under the new bill, Section 21 will only banned after a review into how the courts can handle anti-social tenants. This is basically an indefinite delay, said Jon Tabbush, senior researcher at Centre for London, which “kicks [the ban] into the long grass“.

He added: “The bill was meant to fundamentally rebalance the relationship between landlords and tenants. At best, it will make incremental improvements – creating a private rented property portal, for example. At worst, it will actively harm tenants’ rights.”

Build 40 new hospitals over the next 10 years

Boris Johnson promised 40 brand new hospitals over the next decade. But a report from the Public Accounts Committee in November 2023 found “extreme concerns” over the “lack of progress” and said it was “highly likely” that the pledge won’t be met.

Only 10 out of the 40 new hospitals have received full planning permission and several projects have no planning permission at all.

Reach net zero by 2050

The UK is still technically committed to reaching net zero emissions by 2050. But in practise, a series of government U-turns – including postponing a scheme to encourage heat pump take-up and promising to ‘max out’ North Sea oil – have made it incredibly unlikely.

In May 2024 the High Court ruled (again) that the government would have to redraft its net zero strategy because its existing plan doesn’t provide enough detail about how future targets could be met.

Climate Change Committee has described the UK’s progress on emissions reductions as “worryingly slow”.

Ban conversion therapy

In 2018, Theresa May launched an LGBTQ+ ‘action plan’ in which she vowed to ban so-called conversion therapy – the baseless practice of trying to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity, often through religion and prayer. Boris Johnson reiterated the pledge to ban the abhorrent practise before the 2019 general election.

But this ban is yet another promise the Tories have “kicked into the long grass”.

“It’s been postponed, it’s been walked back, it’s not a priority for the government,” Cleo Madeleine, from trans-led organisation Gendered Intelligence, told the Big Issue.

Partly because of this, the UK has plummeted down the rankings of LGBTQ-friendly countries in Europe.

No new tax rises

In 2019, Boris Johnson pledged not to increase income tax, VAT or National Insurance. At the time, the Institute for Fiscal Studies warned that the Conservatives “may come to regret” the promise.

“It is also part of a fundamentally damaging narrative – that we can have the public services we want, with more money for health and pensions and schools – without paying for them. We can’t,” said IFS director Paul Johnson.

Indeed, the current Tory-led parliament will oversee the biggest set of tax increases since the Second World War. This is still true, despite tax cuts in the autumn statement.

Cut NHS waiting lists

In January 2023, Sunak pledged to cut NHS waiting lists – the latest in a line of Tory leaders to do so.

These lists have fallen slightly in recent months, but are still at shamefully high.

7.6 million people are waiting for treatment in England, almost 400,000 higher than it was in January 2023. This is still three million higher than pre-pandemic levels.

Stop the boats

Rishi Sunak’s flagship immigration policy – deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda – has already cost hundreds of millions. Delayed by legal challenges, it has been described by campaigners as “cruel” and “hostile”.

‘Stopping the boats’ will be a big part of Rishi Sunak’s campaign. But no flights will take off before the election, the prime minister has revealed.

As of 21 April, 6,265 people had made the crossing across the English Channel in small boats during the first months of 2024.

But the Rwanda option was never a viable deterrent, Steve Smith, CEO of Care4Calais told the Big Issue.

“Politicians are playing fast and loose with the future of human beings – and it must be stopped,” he said.

End leasehold

On 2017, Theresa May’s manifesto included a promise to “crack down on unfair practices in leasehold, such as escalating ground rents”. Boris Johnson went further in 2019, pledging to ban “the sale of new leasehold homes” and to “restrict ground rents to a peppercorn”.

In January 2023, housing secretary Michael Gove said that the government had plans to scrap leasehold altogether by the end of the year.

But the promise to abolish leasehold didn’t happen. The promise to reduce ground rents to peppercorn, as promised in Johnson’s manifesto, looks also to have bitten the dust – they will just be capped at £250. According to The Times, Gove met “fierce resistance from the Treasury” to the idea of peppercorn rates. Nor will all the sale of new leasehold homes be banned – just new leasehold houses.

The bill to make these reforms is now in the House of Lords, having passed committee stage. During one debate, Lord Kennedy, the Labour Party’s chief whip in the House of Lords, accused Gove of “shoddy politics”.

“What we have before us today is a virtually eviscerated shell of the bill,” added Labour’s Baroness Taylor during a debate on the legislation.

Ending child poverty

As PM, David Cameron promised to vowed to end the “moral disgrace” of poverty. But there were 4.2 million children living in poverty in the UK in 2021/2022 – one in three children.

Around 350,000 more children were pushed into poverty last year, according to the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG).

The average person in the UK is £10,200 poorer than they would have been if the economy had grown at pre-2010 rates, the Centre for Cities revealed earlier this year.

‘Levelling up’ the UK’s regions

Levelling up – reducing inequality based on where people live – was a big slogan for the Conservatives at the 2019 election.

However, just 10% of the promised funding has been spent so far, the Public Accounts Committee has said – and inequality has deepened.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has revealed that health inequality in the UK is among the worst of any advanced economy. The healthy life expectancy in Liverpool, for example, is just 58, compared to 70 in parts of Berkshire.

Across the country, HLE fell in England between 2011-13 and 2020-22 – by 9.3 months for men and 14 months for women.

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