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Commenting on the Labour 2019 general election manifesto, Ryan Shorthouse, director of the liberal conservative think tank Bright Blue, said:

“The Labour Party’s manifesto contains some positive policies, but overall it equates to a significant and unprecedented expansion of state expenditure and control. They envisage a super-spending, suffocating state. But voters are not stupid: the state cannot and should not deliver everything. It is revealing that one vague and short paragraph is devoted to civic society in a detailed document of over 100 pages.”

“The Labour Party’s depiction of modern-day Britain is dystopian. This shows them to be out-of-touch. Some people face real problems, which public policy should focus on, but there has been significant progress in the finances, services and experiences of most people over recent decades, thanks in part to policies introduced by both Labour and Conservative Governments.”

“Labour is obsessed with universalism, providing free stuff for everyone. But taxpayers should not be overburdened. And precious fiscal resources should be prioritised on people who really need it.”

The Labour Party general election manifesto adopted the following Bright Blue policies:

  • Complying with WHO limits for fine particles and nitrous oxides
  • Introduce an interim payment in the initial five-week wait for Universal Credit
  • Allowing Universal Credit claimants to have split and more frequent payments and enabling direct housing payments to landlords

Taxes

Commenting, Sam Robinson, researcher at Bright Blue, said:

“Increasing income tax on those earning above £80,000 a year is the wrong approach to taxing individuals. Indeed, the tax take from affluent individuals is currently at a record high. Increasingly relying on such a narrow tax base puts revenues at risk. Rather, the tax burden should be lowered on work and increased on activities with negative externalities.”

“Undoing the cuts to the rate of corporation tax risks undoing the substantial increase in tax receipts seen in recent years, while also reducing the UK’s international competitiveness. It is not clear that raising corporation tax would generate significant amounts of extra revenue.”

“Extending the financial transactions tax is bound to lead to less business activity and less innovation. Businesses should be incentivised to take greater social responsibility, not punished simply for doing business.”

“The tax system should be used to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions. But imposing a retrospective windfall tax on oil companies will undermine business confidence in the tax system’s fairness, and risks deterring future investment.”

Renationalisation

Commenting, Patrick Hall, researcher at Bright Blue, said:

“Labour’s proposal of renationalising the energy and water markets would fail to address the woes of both sectors. Since its privatisation in 1989, water in the UK has seen significant increases in investment, a reduction in leakage, and a record of positive environmental outcomes.”

“Labour’s manifesto failed to include any initiatives around incorporating water efficiency into building standards, greywater recycling, reducing consumer water usage or product efficiency standards, all of which would go a long way towards a more sustainable use of water resources in the UK.”

“Labour now claim that the renationalisation of utilities will be fiscally neutral. But the Shadow Chancellor has previously stated that the cost of renationalisation would be £14.8 billion. This is despite Ofwat estimating water’s total asset value at £73 billion. The gross disparity between what Labour would pay for renationalisation and the actual value of utilities in the UK would be exceptionally harmful for investors and pension funds invested in UK utilities.”

Energy supply

Commenting, Patrick Hall, researcher at Bright Blue, said:

“Labour’s support for decarbonising the UK’s energy supply through a greater uptake in renewable energy is welcome, particularly through a significant increase in wind, solar and nuclear power. Their plan for nearly 90% of electricity and 50% of heat from renewable and low-carbon sources by 2030 is bold, as is their intention to bring down the costs of renewables. However, these are a set of targets that are not accompanied with policies aimed at achieving them. Labour should have proposed a new mechanism for awarding competitive, fixed-price contracts for low-cost renewables such as solar and onshore wind.” 

Energy consumption

Commenting, Patrick Hall, researcher at Bright Blue, said:

“Labour’s plan to reduce average household energy bills by £417 per household by 2030, and eliminate fuel poverty through a zero-carbon homes standard and the retrofitting of heat pumps, solar hot water and hydrogen, is laudable. Bright Blue has previously called for home energy improvements to be made via a ‘Home Improvement Scheme’ as well as access to government-backed, interest-free ‘Help to Improve’ loans.”

Industry and innovation

Commenting, Patrick Hall, researcher at Bright Blue, said:

“Labour’s plan to increase R&D spending is welcome, as currently the UK falls almost 1% behind the OECD average for R&D. The direction of some of this funding into R&D for new technologies such as hydrogen and carbon capture and storage is commendable, as presently these technologies are some of the most expensive ways to generate low-carbon power.” 

Employment

Commenting, Anvar Sarygulov, researcher at Bright Blue, said

“Labour’s promise of a four-day week is a particularly ill-considered policy. With the average number of working hours in the UK being 42.5 for full-time employees, decreasing the amount of time we work by almost a quarter will have a drastically negative impact on all workers. Without unprecedented increases in productivity, our economy and wages will shrink significantly.”

“The recent commitments by both the Labour and the Conservative Party to raise the minimum wage is welcome, as evidence suggests that there is room for it to grow. But it would be better if both parties stopped playing political football with the issue and let the Low Pay Commission take an evidence-led approach on raising the wage floor instead instead.”

“There are some positive glimmers in Labour’s manifesto on employment. They have rightly called for the right to request flexible working be a day one right, a policy supported by Bright Blue in the past. But banning zero-hours contracts altogether and limiting self-employment status will remove the flexibility that many workers want or need.” 

Early Years

Commenting, Ryan Shorthouse, director of Bright Blue, said:

“The Labour Party are right to revitalise Sure Start Children’s Centres. There is now strong evidence that they improve outcomes for both children and parents. It will be important to ringfence the funding available to Children’s Centres.”

“The Labour Party has chosen to extend the period of statutory paid maternity leave, rather than the weekly value of statutory maternity pay. This is a mistake. There is evidence that low-income mothers return to work sooner they they’d like because they cannot afford to rely on statutory maternity pay, which is well below the value of the minimum wage for a full-time week.”

“Labour have, erroneously, chosen to prioritise additional state resources on trying to make childcare more affordable, through the extension of the Early Years Free Entitlement. There are already relatively extensive and generous subsidies to help parents with the cost of childcare. And there are alternative ways to help parents with high costs, for example by offering government-backed, income-contingent loans.”

“Childcare is an important service for working parents. But its much more important role is educating young children. The focus of politicians now should be investing in the quality of childcare, by raising the qualifications and pay of staff.”

Schools

Commenting, Ryan Shorthouse, director at Bright Blue, said:

On testing children, the Labour Party have followed cliched complaints, rather than the evidence. There is no compelling evidence that the exam system children experience is increasing mental health problems. And scrapping Ofsted would be unnecessary and unwise. Reducing such accountability will likely reduce school standards, hitting the poorest pupils the most.”

“The Labour Party seem to have wisely abandoned their aim to abolish private schools. But they could have been bolder in different ways, proposing to introduce VAT on private school fees and make such schools participate in school linking programmes to keep their charitable status.”

Higher education

Commenting, Ryan Shorthouse, director at Bright Blue, said:

“Scrapping university tuition fees is a deeply ignorant and regressive policy. It is a huge waste of money that could have been spent on people in our society who are genuinely struggling.”

“There is no evidence that eligible students in the UK are deterred from applying to university because of tuition fees. In fact, a record number of students from deprived backgrounds are now attending university.

“Britain needs and is projected to have more graduates in the years and decades ahead. If they do not pay the tuition fees, then general taxpayers – which includes a higher proportion of poorer, non-graduates – will have to.”

Welfare

Commenting, Anvar Sarygulov, researcher at Bright Blue, said:

“The Labour Party is wrong to want to scrap Universal Credit. Universal Credit is a simpler and better way to support people who receive benefits. Bright Blue research shows that many claimants like the system as a whole. Another fundamental change to the welfare system will be costly, burdensome and create unnecessary stress for millions of vulnerable people.”

“However, the Labour Party has correctly identified many of the ways in which Universal Credit could be improved. As Bright Blue research has shown, introducing an interim payment during the five-week initial wait, enabling the housing element to be paid directly to the landlord and letting people have the choice of split and more frequent payments will greatly improve life for many claimants.”

“The key question about Labour’s welfare policies is of how to fund their £8.4 billion package. Increasing the Local Housing Allowance to a local renting average and bringing Carer’s Allowance to parity with Jobseeker’s Allowance are overdue policies. But funding them will be unsustainable if it relies on creative accounting and overly optimistic assumptions that can be found in Labour’s costings.”    

Pensions

Commenting, Sam Robinson, researcher at Bright Blue, said:

“Since 2010, pensioners have been relatively well-protected. Guaranteeing the triple lock on the value of the state pension, and maintaining universal Winter Fuel payments and free TV licenses for the over 75s, is utterly unnecessary.”

“Abandoning plans to raise the State Pension Age flies in the face of demographic trends and breaks with near-universal consensus among policymakers that increases will have to take place sooner or later. This is a deeply unwise proposal.”

“With the policy ideas from the 2003-2005 Turner Commission nearing a conclusion, a new consensus around the future of state and private pensions is needed. Labour’s support for an independent Pensions Commission is therefore highly welcome.”

Housing

Commenting, Anvar Sarygulov, researcher at Bright Blue, said:

“The Labour Party is right in its intention to build many more homes for social rent each year. Housebuilding in Britain has tended to reach significant numbers only when governments committed to building a significant number of social homes. Though the Labour Party’s target number is unrealistic, ambition is needed if we are to address the housing crisis and ensure that more vulnerable and elderly people can live in accommodation that suits their needs.”

“The Labour Party’s plan to cap rents flies in the face of all available evidence. Rent controls will cause significant long-term damage to both the quantity and quality of rented homes, as evidence from abroad overwhelmingly shows, leaving many private renters worse off. Meanwhile, introducing open-ended tenancies and ending ‘no fault’ evictions should improve the experience of renting, but the effectiveness of Labour’s proposal will depend on details that they fail to discuss.” 

Air pollution

Commenting, William Nicolle, researcher at Bright Blue, said:

“Introducing World Health Organisation (WHO) air pollution limits for nitrogen oxides and fine particulate matter is welcome, and something which Bright Blue has called for.”

“On electric vehicles, Labour’s announcement of aiming to end the sale of conventional diesel and petrol cars by 2030 is ambitious and welcome. But, there is an absence of detail on how they will develop national charging infrastructure, as well as bring the costs of electric vehicles down so they are affordable to those on low incomes. To properly incentivise consumers to buy EVs, VAT needs to be completely abolished on EVs. ”

“The Labour Party’s commitment to introduce more clean air zone is welcome and necessary. But, the design of these clean air zones should enable local or combined authorities to make reasonable profits from the administration of such zones, which could generate funding for local scrappage schemes or increased electric vehicle charging infrastructure.”

Immigration

Commenting, Ryan Shorthouse, director at Bright Blue, said:

“The last decade has seen the introduction of punitive immigration policies, which have been unnecessary and ineffective. The Labour Party are right to want to build a more humane immigration system.”

“However, we do need a controlled immigration system. And there are progressive reasons for this. Free movement across the EU, which the Labour Party seem to be advocating regardless of Brexit, is not sustainable. We should have targets on gross levels of some categories of migrants.”

Legal Aid

Commenting, Phoebe Arslanagic-Wakefield, research assistant at Bright Blue, said:

“Labour promises to restore all early legal aid advice, which was cut in the Coalition Government’s LASPO 2012. Furthermore, Labour specifically pledges to end cross-examination of domestic violence victims by their alleged abusers, which has been just one egregious side effect of the LASPO cuts. Labour’s approach to legal aid is a positive step towards increasing access to justice and the courts in the UK, and undoing the damage wrought by LASPO.”

Discrimination 

Commenting, Phoebe Arslanagic-Wakefield, research assistant at Bright Blue, said:

“Labour pledges to require all employers with over 250 employees to obtain government certification on gender equality or face further auditing and fines. This is vague. Assuming Labour is talking about the gender pay gap, the way forward is gathering more data from all companies to understand the gap better, not punishing companies with unspecified fines. The gender pay gap needs closing, but its causes are complex, and can’t always be blamed on bad or biased hiring and management practices.”

“Labour also calls for an extension of pay gap reporting to BAME groups. This is a sensible policy, which will produce data that gives researchers and analysts a deeper understanding into the dynamics of the BAME pay gap. However, since sample sizes may be small, it might be worth anonymising this data for companies below a certain size.”