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General Election Party Manifestos and Personal Debt

23rd April 2015

Personal debt remains a major concern for millions of households throughout the UK. With this in mind, we’ve set out to establish what each of the “major” political parties has pledged to do about personal debt in their 2015 general election manifestos.

Our methodology has been as follows:

  1. Download the full manifestos of the following political parties: Conservatives, Greens, Labour, Liberal Democrats, UKIP, and the SNP.

  2. Conduct an automated search of the documents using the phrases “personal debt” and “debt” (you wouldn’t expect us to actually read the things would you?).

  3. We’ve generally ignored general descriptive references about the current situation. For example, a manifesto statement such as “personal debt levels are growing” often isn’t covered below because it includes no specific proposal or plan of action.

  4. We’ve also chosen not to cover the subject of student debt as it relates specifically to tuition fees. The focus of this article is on consumer debt.

Here’s what we found (parties in alphabetical order):

Conservative Party 

Personal debt is included in a section that perhaps fits in with the old “Big Society” idea. In a section entitled “We will help you volunteer and support action to help the vulnerable” it is stated that, “We have always believed that churches, faith groups and other voluntary groups play an important and longstanding role in this country’s social fabric, running foodbanks, helping the homeless, and tackling debt and addictions, such as alcoholism and gambling”.

How will the above be delivered? It’s claimed that forcing major firms and public sector employers to allow their staff three days of paid volunteering per annum will create additional resources to support such action. It’s also stated that they “will continue to support action that helps vulnerable people get the assistance they need” but no specifics about how this will be delivered are provided.

A further pledge is that, “Our tough new Financial Conduct Authority will protect consumers and ensure that financial markets work for the benefit of the whole economy”.

Most consumer lenders and debt advisers (who were recently drawn under the remit of the FCA) would agree that the FCA is tougher than its predecessor. Many would concede that borrowers will be better protected as a result. This is hardly a specifically Conservative pledge however; the FCA will remain in place and carry on with their work whoever wins the forthcoming election. 

The Conservatives also state that, “We will work to eliminate child poverty and introduce better measures to drive real change in children’s lives, by recognising the root causes of poverty: entrenched worklessness, family breakdown, problem debt, and drug and alcohol dependency”.  However, we couldn’t find any detail about how they’d recognise these root causes (in respect of problem debt) and how they would act based upon that recognition.

Supporters might suggest that the Conservative set of proposals would harness community resources and act on the root causes of debt. Critics might point out that the vast majority of volunteers would completely lack the skills required to deliver useful debt advice, and that other Conservative pledges simply cannot be fairly judged because they’ve failed to explain how they’d deliver them. 

Green Party

The Greens state that “Debt levels are growing. By 2018, two million households are expected to spend more than half their disposable income repaying loans”.

However, we could find no specific manifesto pledges at all referring to how to tackle this problem. This might seem unusual to some given the scale of the prediction above.

Green Party supporters would (we assume) counter that their wider economic proposals would diminish the need for people to accrue further debts, and also tend to render their current debt repayment levels more affordable.  

Labour Party

Labour states that it will, “deal with the scourge of household debt by introducing a new levy on payday lenders, using the funds raised to boost low-cost alternatives like credit unions”.

Observers might welcome support for credit unions; many believe that they have significant potential to be a financial force for good. Likewise, observers might very strongly question whether a levy on a single rapidly-declining source of consumer debt could ever possibly “deal with the scourge of household debt”.

That’s it from Labour.

Liberal Democrat Party

The Liberal Democrats will, “Develop a strategy that will deliver advice and legal support to help people with everyday problems like personal debt and social welfare issues, working across government and involving non-profit advice agencies”.

A laudable aim of course, as Liberal Democrat supporters would surely agree. Cynics might suggest that this is simply another way of writing that, “We have not yet developed a strategy that will deliver advice and legal support to help… “.

And… that’s it from the Lib Dems.

UKIP

UKIP will “Give tenants the right to request Housing Benefit is paid direct to their landlords, whatever benefit scheme they are on” because “Changes to the way housing benefit is paid are leading some tenants to fall into debt”.

UKIP also wish to invest in foodbanks because “If those who attend foodbanks are in such dire straits that they need food handouts, there is a high likelihood that they will also need additional support to deal with issues such as debt, family breakdown, addiction and poor physical or mental health”. They intend to “contribute to the important work done by foodbanks and develop them into community advice centres for those most in need”.

Supporters might see this as being a good practical step that could increase both debt advice capacity and access. Critics might claim that politicians would better use their time (and our money) by addressing the root causes of a problem rather than the symptoms.

SNP

We couldn’t find a single mention of personal debt by the Scottish National Party in their manifesto. 

SNP supporters might point to a number of recent and significant developments to Scottish debt legislation that have been introduced by the SNP Scottish government. Critics might suggest that failing to address the subject at all in their manifesto demonstrates that the SNP has become complacent regarding this subject. 

Has Political Complacency About Personal Debt Crept In?

We were genuinely surprised and disappointed by the lack of attention applied to the subject of personal debt in the manifestos of each of the major UK political parties.

Yesterday’s Guardian included the following warning from the International Monetary Fund, “A rise in household debt to one of the highest in the developed world puts the UK on a warning list of countries vulnerable to a credit crunch similar to the one that triggered the 2008 banking crash”.

With the credit crunch receding in political memories, and much current focus being placed on the assumed continued economic recovery, our entire political class might just be accused of complacency? These 2015 General Election manifestos barely touch upon a subject (to any significant specific extent) that remains of huge concern to millions of people all around the country.    

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