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Three manifestos - what's on offer?

General election 2017 – what’s in the manifestos

Rather sooner than most of us expected, general election time is here again, and that means party manifestos. These are lengthy documents that set out, with varying degrees of specificity, what a party would do in government. Some of our friends and partner organisations have already reviewed the three main party manifestos, including the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on poverty, and the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, Crest Advisory (via Russell Webster) and Rob Allen on the criminal justice system. Housing journalist Jules Birch has reviewed the Conservative and Labour manifestos. The Institute for Government has put together a clear, concise table summarising the Conservative and Labour manifestos only. These are all excellent summaries that I’m not going to try to replicate, and I’d recommend reading them if you’re interested in these topics.

In this post, I’ll limit myself to picking out a few points of interest to us from each of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos. It’s not exhaustive, but will hopefully be of some interest. As for why we’ve chosen to look at just those manifestos, it’s because they are the parties that seem to be the most likely to end up in office, either in their own right or as a member of a coalition. Revolving Doors is strictly apolitical, and nothing in this post should be seen as endorsing any party.

Conservative Party (download)

We know that employment is associated with reduced reoffending, and that good work is generally good for health and wellbeing. The Conservative manifesto proposes that businesses employing care leavers, people with a disability or chronic mental health problem, ex-offenders & long-term unemployed will have 12-month employers’ National Insurance holiday. No mention of people with histories of substance misuse, which is perhaps surprising, given the prominence given to what became the Dame Carol Black review in the 2015 manifesto. There is evidence that incentives can have a positive effect on recruitment, although most of the evidence is around payments or subsidies, rather than reducing the cost of employing someone. There is also the question of the level – at the National Living Wage for someone aged 25 or older, this would be an incentive of just under £900 per year. The performance of programmes such as the Youth Contract and Future Jobs Fund, which also featured employer incentives, suggests that this may not be high enough to have a strong effect on employer behaviour.

There are also proposals concerning mental health. These include a new Mental Health Bill, although the manifesto is quite light on detail. Taking on a major piece of legislation like that is a large commitment, and one in keeping with the record of recent governments on mental health: initiatives such as those around places of safety, the Crisis Care Concordat, the forthcoming revised guidance on coexisting substance misuse and mental ill health, and the establishment of parity of esteem in law are all of a piece. But many of the problems we encounter aren’t down to legislative failings, but with systems that are struggling and, in many cases, not fit for purpose.

Of particular interest to us is the proposal to ensure that police and crime commissioners (PCCs) sit on health and wellbeing boards (HWBs) to enable ‘better co-ordination of crime prevention with local drug and alcohol and mental health services’. PCCs being on HWBs has always struck us as sensible and, in fact, many already are represented on them. We’re aware of some who aren’t, though, and others who have asked to join and have been refused.

Labour Party (download)

Labour proposes to reverse many aspects of welfare reform introduced by the current and preceding governments, including scrapping the ‘bedroom tax’, reinstating Housing Benefit for under-21s, restoring work allowances within Universal Credit, ending the 6-week payment wait in Universal Credit, and removing the cap on tax credit and Universal Credit payments to families with more than two children. Labour also proposes scrapping the sanctions regime, ending Employment and Support Allowance and Personal Independence Payment assessments, and replacing both with a ‘personalised, holistic’ assessment. In essence, this seems to be more about undoing recent changes rather than new, radical proposals. However, due to changes that the manifesto is silent on, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has assessed the overall effect of the Labour commitments as having a smaller redistributive effect than the Lib Dem proposals.

Labour also focuses on mental health, proposing to ring-fence funding, and to prioritise early intervention and young people’s mental health services. Interestingly, there’s no mention of substance misuse in the manifesto, other than a commitment to develop a strategy for the ‘children of alcoholics’. This absence (an absence entirely reflected in the Conservative manifesto, in fairness) is notable from a party which, in the late 90s, put so much emphasis on the economic, social and health harms caused by drug and alcohol misuse.

Liberal Democrats (download)

Having said that I was going to try not to highlight the same things as the blogs I’ve linked to above, I’m going to break my own rule with this manifesto. Consistent with their lines for several years, the Lib Dems propose introducing a legal and regulated market for cannabis. I’m sure this will be welcomed by some (and will horrify others), but it’s not that central to our work. While there is a range of complex, evolving and sometimes unclear evidence around the effects of cannabis on mental health, educational attainment and the like, we tend to focus on the traditional ‘hard’ drugs – crack cocaine and heroin – and, increasingly on the use of novel psychoactive substances, particularly among subpopulations such as homeless people, or those in prison. Here, the Lib Dems commit to repealing the Psychoactive Substances Act, on the basis that it has driven dealing underground. This is pretty much by definition correct, although the problem will need to be addressed by addressing treatment and vulnerable populations, as well as through supply.

The Lib Dems also commit to reversing some welfare reforms of recent years, including allowing Local Housing Allowance to rise in line with average local rents. The Lib Dems also propose separating the administration of benefits and the provision of employment support. Various research projects have found a substantial level of concern and even distrust about Jobcentre Plus’s role in checking and enforcing conditionality, and this would be a return to the pre-2002 era, when we had the Benefits Agency and the Employment Service operating more or less separately. The Lib Dems make a commitment to scale up the availability of Individual Placement and Support for people affected by mental ill health. This is a form of employment support with good evidence for effectiveness for people with severe and enduring mental ill health, and promising evidence for other groups, such as those with mild to moderate mental ill health, and needs relating to substance misuse.

One last thing…

One area where all three manifestos make bold commitments is homelessness. All three commit to ending homelessness – by 2025 for Labour, 2027 for the Conservatives, and at an unspecified time for the Lib Dems. The Conservatives point to the Homelessness Reduction Act and a commitment to Housing First as their mechanisms of choice; Labour to 4,000 homes reserved for people affected by rough sleeping and to protecting existing hostels and supported housing; and the Lib Dems to Housing First again, better prevention and adequately funded supported accommodation.

While there is naturally clear water between the manifestos in many other respects, it’s welcome to see that all three main parties have acknowledged the terrible impact and rising prevalence of homelessness, and have committed not only to tackle it, but to end it.