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Taxes, benefit cuts and bad jokes: Key takeaways from the Tory general election manifesto launch

The manifesto comes as the Conservative Party led by Rishi Sunak stands on the brink of electoral wipeout

rishi sunak

Rishi Sunak has launched the Conservative manifesto. Number 10/ Flickr

Standing at the podium at Silverstone race course, Rishi Sunak has launched the Conservative manifesto.

The choice of venue for Tuesday’s (11 June) press conference – the home of British Grand Prix – is appropriate, the prime minister quipped, given that the economy has “turned a corner”.

Among less sympathetic sections of the British commentariat, the setting solicited jokes about the government’s “wheels coming off” and the Conservatives being “stuck in the slow-lane”.

Much of the policy-package has already been announced. But from national insurance to childcare, here are 11 key take-aways from the policy package in the Tory manifesto.

National insurance tax cut

Sunak has pledged £17bn worth of tax cuts in the Tory manifeso, paid for by £12bn in welfare reductions and a £6bn in tax avoidance clampdown.  

The prime minister has promised to reduce national insurance by 2p. This cut – which takes the levy down to 6% – follows two other 2p cuts in April and January. The Tories would also abolish the main rate of self-employed national insurance entirely by the end of the next parliament.

The Conservatives have separately promised not to raise income tax, national insurance or VAT. But taxes will go up for many people anyway, because the party – and their Labour opponents – will keep income tax thresholds frozen until 2028.

Sam Robinson, Senior Researcher at the Social Market Foundation, questioned the funding streams behind the tax cut.

“Unfortunately, this cut to NICs is not part of a considered reform agenda but funded by magical thinking about the scope for efficiencies in welfare reform. And cutting self-employed NICs by more than employee NICs is a strange decision that will worsen the tax bias against employment,” he said.

Welfare: Tightening disability benefit rules

The tax cuts will supposedly be largely covered by reductions in welfare spending.

“In this party, we believe it is morally right that people who can work, do work,” Sunak told Silverstone.

Previously-announced reforms include tightening access to extra universal credit and personal independence payment (PIP), and increasing the use of sanctions to punish claimants deemed not to be looking for work.

The government has described it as a “crackdown on sick note culture”, while campaigners have slammed it as “inhumane.”

Speaking today, campaigner and author Dr Frances Ryan accused Sunak of blaming disabled people for structural issues.

“Sunak framing getting people off disability benefits as a “moral mission” is a Victorian dog whistle. It frames being able to work as a virtue and being too sick to as a moral failing. It suggests the solution is, not structural change, but disabled people trying harder,” she said.

Housing: creating an ‘ownership society’  

Tory housing policy would create an “ownership society”, Sunak has pledged, where “more and more people have the security and pride of home ownership”.

The Tories would set up a scheme to help first-time buyers with government-backed mortgages. These would allow them to buy a new-build home up to the value of £400,000 with just a 5% deposit.

It’s modelled on the Help to Buy scheme that ended last year, and will cost around £1bn per year.

David Sturrock, senior research economist at the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), said that the scheme could help potential homebuyers get “onto the housing ladder” – but expressed concerns that it wouldn’t help those who most need it.

“Experience from past schemes suggests that some of the subsidy will be captured by developers in the form of higher prices and profits and that some who buy would be able to do so without the scheme,” he said.

The Conservatives would also permanently abolish stamp duty for first-time buyers purchasing a property up to £425,000.

However, where the houses for these first-time buyers will come from is another matter. The Conservatives have pledged to build 1.6 million new homes “in the right places” – i.e., not on the greenbelt. However, they have failed to meet their 2019 commitment to build 300,000 new homes every year, building an average of  189,000 houses per year.

“It takes a lot of wishful thinking to say this plan will add up to an additional 1.6 million homes,” said Gideon Salutin, a Senior Researcher at the Social Market Foundation.

“The Conservatives have pledged no new money to increase social housing, as SMF has previously called for, and meagre changes to planning by reforming brownfield sites. So long as policymakers remain this timid, we’ll continue to see slow construction and rising prices.”

New protections for renters are scarce in the Tory manifesto, though the government has reiterated its long-delayed 2019 pledge to ban Section 21 ‘no-fault’ evictions.

Triple Lock Plus’ for pensioners

The already-announced ‘Triple Lock Plus’ will mean pensioners never have to pay tax on state-pension earnings.

Without this policy, the increasing state pension would exceed the tax-free personal allowance by around 2027. The ‘Triple Lock Plus’ would see the tax-free pension allowance increased at least 2.5% or in line with the highest of earnings or inflation.

Pensions already increase in line with inflation, meaning they rocketed by £900 this year alone.

National service for teenagers

Every 18 year-old will have to partake in mandatory national service under a reelected Tory government. They would have to choose between a 12-month full-time placement in the armed forces, or 25 days unpaid mandatory volunteering in flood defence, the NHS, fire service, charities, or search and rescue.

Children: Raising the child-benefit threshold and 30 hours free childcare

Wealthy parents will continue to receive full child benefit until they earn £120,000 a year, double the current £60,000 threshold. The salary at which a parent receives no child benefit at all will also double to £160,000.

The policy will cost £1.3bn in 2029-30, Conservative HQ claims, also supposedly funded by clamping down on tax avoidance.

By September 2025, children aged between nine months and school age will get 30 hours of free childcare per week, as long as their parents are working and earning between £8,670 a year but less than £100,000.  

However, campaigners have warned there are not enough nursery spaces to meet the increased demand for childcare expected following the expansion of free childcare.

Education: Swapping so-called ‘rip-off degrees’ for apprenticeships

The Conservatives will scrap so-called “rip-off degrees”, where graduates earn less on average than they would if they had not gone to university.

The party says this would raise £900m that they would spend on creating 100,000 apprenticeships by the end of the next parliament.

“It is a positive thing to bolster job specific apprenticeships,” Big Issue editor Paul McNamee wrote last month. “But it shouldn’t come at the cost of hammering kids who want a degree. The answer, surely, is to invest better in both, rather than demonising one against the other.”

Law and order: 8,000 more police officers

The Conservatives will commit to recruiting 8,000 additional police officers over the next three years, at an annual cost of £818m as well. They will pay for this in part by increasing visa fees.

Other law and order announcements in the Tory manifesto include raising the minimum sentence for murders in the home from 15 to 25 years.

Immigration: ‘Seeing the Rwanda plan through’ and hiking visa fees

In 2022, the Conservatives pledged to deport people who arrive on small boats to Rwanda, barring their ability to claim asylum in the UK. After years of legal challenges, the long-anticipated first flight will not take-off before polling day.

The Tories would reopen talks with other countries like Armenia and Botswana, with the aim of replicating the scheme elsewhere.

Other plans to reduce migration include a “new annual cap on visas”. The exact number would be set by the Migration Advisory Committee, with the aim of lowering it year on year.

“Our plan is clear… we will halve migration,” Sunak pledged. Part of the way to do it will be hiking visa fees. If re-elected, the government would raise the Immigration Health Surcharge for students from £776 to £1,035 a year, and increase “all visa fees” by 25%.

Environment: ‘No new green levies or charges

“We will put security and family finances ahead of unaffordable eco-zealotry,” the PM told the audience at the launch of the Tory manifesto. This is a reference to the PM’s net zero U-turns last year, which pushed back plans to phase out gas.  

They will also ‘back drivers’ by forcing local councils to hold a referendum on 20mph zones abolish London’s ULEZ expansion

Increase NHS spending as wait-lists reach record highs

At the Tory manifesto launch, Sunak promised to increase spending above inflation every year, recruiting 92,000 more nurses and 28,000 more doctors by the end of the next parliament.

After 13 years of Conservative rule, the NHS is in crisis. Around 7.61 million people are on elective waiting lists in England alone, while a staggering 1.5 million patients in England waited 12 hours or more after arriving at A&E over the past year.

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