FFS Explains: what do the manifestos say about austerity? 6

FFS Explains: what do the manifestos say about austerity?

Austerity is a major election talking point, as the different parties announce their plans for how to deal with the policy’s impact should they win the general election.

The Ferret’s #JustSurviving collaboration with HuffPost UK looked at four stories of austerity’s impact in Scotland.

As a result of our series, leading Scottish campaigners and church leaders have called on politicians to “right the wrongs” caused by a decade of austerity if elected on Thursday.

Call for UK government to “right the wrongs” of a decade of austerity

All the parties are making significant promises on tackling inequality in Scotland and the UK, and time will tell if they are fulfilled.

Ferret Fact Service assessed the party manifestos in Scotland to see what they are promising on austerity and whether the experts think they are doing enough.


The SNP’s manifesto pledges differ from the other main parties in Scotland, as they are not presenting a prospectus for governing at Westminster. Instead the document focuses on the SNP’s record in government in Scotland and draws contrasts between this and the measures of the current UK government.

The policy proposals are presented as what the SNP will push for in opposition. It also acts as a manifesto for what Scotland could do if it voted to leave the UK.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has said that many of the policies outlined in the manifesto, notably the end of the “bedroom tax” and removal of the two-child cap on means-tested benefits would “benefit to low income working age families”.

The IFS suggested that, given Scotland’s budget deficit and the recommendations in the SNP’s Growth Commission, after independence there would be a measure of austerity as the SNP acts to reduce the deficit. The Growth Commission plans “imply austerity for some parts of government”.

Paying for the spending plans in the SNP manifesto in an independent Scotland “would mean either those cuts would have to be even bigger, or other taxes would have to be increased,” according to the IFS analysis.

SNP manifesto pledges

  • Ask the next UK government for the powers to hold a second independence referendum by the end of the year.
  • Devolve control of National Insurance to Scotland.
  • Oppose tax cuts for big businesses and the top earners, and supporting a crackdown on tax avoidance.
  • Oppose any increases in VAT.
  • Pressure the UK Government to reverse cuts to the Scottish budget.
  • Push for new National Health Service Protection Act.
  • Devolve Misuse of Drugs Act.
  • Call for UK Government to match Scottish per capita health spending, leading to £17 billion spending on NHS Scotland by 2024/25 through Barnet consequentials.
  • Press for the end of the two-child benefit cap, the “rape clause”, and an end to Universal Credit.
  • Call for an end to the benefit freeze, the bedroom tax and a period of uplifts to benefits to match inflation.
  • An end to benefits sanctions, and launching a benefit take-up campaign so people know what they are entitled to.
  • Compensation for the WASPI women.
  • Oppose any rise in the pensions age.
  • oppose the increase in state pension age to 68 by 2038.
  • Call for new benefit to reduce child poverty.


Scottish Labour

The Scottish Labour manifesto echoes the UK party’s pledges with an ambitious plan for spending and reform, which the IFS calls a “very substantial increase in the role of the state”.

Jeremy Corbyn’s party has announced benefits spending which will bring the total benefits bill back to around its 2010 level, however the Institute for Fiscal Studies say that due to changes in underlying pressures, this amount would only reverse around a quarter of spending cuts to benefits since 2010.

The party pledges to replace the controversial Universal Credit roll out, although it does not specify what system would replace it.

The party also has an ambitious health spending plan, with a 3.8 per cent increase in spending per year between 2019-20 and 2023-24, with resultant increases in Scotland via the Barnett formula.

Scottish Labour manifesto pledges

  • A 25 per cent increase of £600m every year for adult social care in Scotland.
  • £2bn of additional NHS funding through Barnett consequentials (proportional spending given to Scotland as a result of spending elsewhere).
  • Funding for mental health crisis services to operate on a 24/7 basis.
  • Extending free school meals to include all school years, and rolling out the provision of free meals during holidays.
  • A new minimum student income tied to the proposed living wage of £10 per hour.
  • Building 12,000 social and council houses, and investing £6bn to upgrade energy efficiency in Scottish homes.
  • Regulating rents in the private sector, with these also applied to student accommodation.
  • A 5 per cent pay rise for public sector workers, with above-inflation pay rises to follow each year, and the enforcement of maximum pay ratios of 20:1.
  • A “Real Living Wage” of £10 per hour for all workers aged 16 and over.
  • A ban on zero hours contracts, so someone has worked regular hours for more than 12 weeks has the right to a regular contract.
  • Banning unpaid internships, and giving workers the right to flexible working.
  • A Scottish pilot for a Universal Basic Income (a guaranteed regular income for all citizens, regardless of working situation).
  • Introducing an interim benefit payment so claimants don’t have to wait five weeks.
  • Scrapping the benefit cap and the two child limit, ending the “rape clause”.
  • Scrapping the bedroom tax.
  • Raising the Carer’s Allowance to be in line with Job Seeker’s Allowance.
  • Maintaining the pensions ‘triple lock’ and the Winter Fuel Allowance.


Scottish Conservatives

The Conservatives manifesto focuses on UK spending and the consequent uplifts in Scottish spending.

The IFS reports that the UK manifesto “adds just £2.9bn” in day-to-day spending on public services in 2023/24 to plans already announced. These increases would increase spending in that year by “less than one-third of one per cent”, according to the IFS.

Unlike the other major parties, the Conservatives are not rolling back any of their controversial welfare reforms, pledging to continue the implementation of Universal Credit and maintain the benefit cap and bedroom tax.

Institute for Fiscal Studies director Paul Johnson described “the lack of significant policy action” in the UK manifesto as “remarkable”.

Scottish Conservatives manifesto pledges

  • £3.3bn funding for Scotland’s NHS between 2018 and 2023, via Barnett consequentials.
  • £1.4bn funding for schools through Barnett consequentials.
  • No VAT or National Insurance increases, and raising the threshold at which individuals pay National Insurance to £9,500 and then to £12,500.
  • greater share of NHS funding going to GPs.
  • Maintaining the triple lock for pensions, the winter fuel payment and the free elderly bus pass.
  • Abolishing the tampon tax.
  • Continue the roll-out of Universal Credit.
  • Extend entitlement to leave for unpaid carers.
  • Reduce the number of reassessments for disabled people.
  • Review state pension inequality for Waspi women.
  • A UK “shared prosperity fund” to tackle inequality and deprivation in UK nations.
  • No access to unemployment, housing, and child benefit for EU migrants, in the way non-EEA migrants currently do.
  • Increase in NHS health surcharge for new arrivals to UK.
  • Single enforcement body to for employment law.


Scottish Liberal Democrats

The Scottish Liberal Democrats manifesto focuses on the potential damage that Brexit could cause to the UK’s economy, and pledges to use money saved by remaining in the EU to improve welfare across the country. Extra NHS spending and ambitious housebuilding targets are among the party’s main pledges for Scotland.

The manifesto suggests that a £50bn ‘Remain bonus’ would help to fund its pledges. The IFS explains this is a £14bn bonus, with the rest accrued from additional revenues. It is based on additional tax revenue the Lib Dems estimate will come from the economy being 2 per cent bigger in 2024/25 as a result of Britain being in the EU.

The IFS suggests “some additional growth” and added tax revenue is likely if we remain in the EU, and that the Lib Dems claim is within the range of plausible estimates.

The manifesto’s benefit pledges include ending the two-child cap, reversing some cuts to disability and housing benefits and tweaks to Universal Credit. The IFS argue these would reverse around a quarter of the discretionary cuts implemented since 2010.

Scottish Liberal Democrats manifesto pledges

  • Build 300,000 new homes per year, including 100,000 for social housing.
  • Consult on setting Living Wage across all sectors, paid to all central government departments.
  • 20 per cent increase in minimum wage for those on zero-hours contracts at times of normal demand. Workers will have the right to request a fixed contract after 12 months.
  • Invest the “£50bn remain bonus” services and tackling inequality.
  • Free childcare for children aged two to four, and from 9 months if their parents are in work.
  • Extra NHS spending for Scotland due to the Barnett formula.
  • Put a mental health practitioner in every GP practice, and 24 hour mental health coverage in every A&E ward and police division.
  • Increase grants and bursaries for students from less well-off backgrounds.
  • End fuel poverty by 2025.
  • Invest £6bn into benefits system, and reduce the wait for initial payments from five weeks to five days.
  • End the two child policy and benefits cap, and abolish the bedroom tax.
  • Increasing the working allowance and introducing a second earner allowance.
  • Reform Universal Credit to support the self-employed, and create an incentive-based system to replace sanctions. End work capability assessments and replace them with local authority run, real world tests.
  • Reverse cuts to Employment Support Allowance, and raise the amount earned before losing the Carer’s Allowance to £150 a week.
  • Retain the triple lock on pensions, and ensure the WASPI women are compensated.
  • Statutory paternity leave increased to 6 weeks.
  • Enable safe injection rooms in problem drug areas, starting in Glasgow. Those arrested for personal drug quantities will be offered treatment, with a focus on civil penalties not imprisonment.


Photo thanks to iStock/CasPhotography

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