Labour vs Conservatives: What are their policies and where are they in the polls?

It’s manifesto week ahead of the general election on 4 July. We look at the policies of Labour vs Conservatives. Plus, what do the polls say?

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (right) walks with Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

At election time, politicians hand out pledges like sweets at a child’s birthday party. But it’s now manifesto week, which means it is time for each party to lock its policies down in writing. 

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak unveiled the Conservative party manifesto on 11 June at the Silverstone motor racing circuit. While the event was far from a car crash, critics have said the manifesto isn’t radical enough to close Labour’s comfortable lead in the polls. 

The headline promise was a 2p cut to National Insurance, but the manifesto also confirmed a string of previously-announced policies such as the triple lock plus. It was silent on the topic of inheritance tax, despite speculation that the Conservatives might cut (or even scrap) death duties.

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Labour is set to publish its manifesto this week (13 June). The party is expected to confirm it won’t raise income tax, National Insurance or VAT – all promises it has made verbally on the campaign trail so far. 

The party approved the document at its “clause V” meeting on Friday, after the shadow cabinet, union representatives and the National Executive Committee (the party’s governing body) gave it the green light. 

Reports suggest Unite, one of Labour’s biggest trade union donors, has refused to endorse the manifesto, saying it does not go far enough to protect workers’ rights.

We explore both parties’ policies in further detail and look at where they are in the polls. Plus, what will it all mean for your money?

What will the general election mean for your taxes?

Taxation is an important topic heading into any general election – and Labour and the Conservatives have already come to blows on the matter. 

In the first TV debate of the campaign period, Sunak claimed he had seen Treasury figures which showed that taxes would rise by £2,000 under a Labour government. However, Starmer argued that these figures were misleading and that the Prime Minister had “put pretend Labour policies to the Treasury” to arrive at the sum. 

Treasury permanent secretary James Bowler has since distanced himself from the figures, arguing that the Conservatives included “costs beyond those provided by the civil service”. So, what exactly would a Labour or a Conservative government do with taxation?

  • Income tax: Both parties have committed to keeping income tax thresholds frozen until 2028. This could see almost four million taxpayers pulled into higher tax bands thanks to fiscal drag, according to forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR).
  • National Insurance: In their manifesto, the Conservatives have promised a 2p National Insurance cut if they win the election. Hunt has already cut the levy twice in the space of six months (from 12% to 10%, and then down to 8%). Labour has said it won’t match this pledge, calling the Tory manifesto a “desperate wish list”.
  • VAT: Both the Conservatives and Labour have pledged to keep VAT frozen at 20%. The only exception is that Labour is planning to end tax breaks for private schools, if it gets the keys to Number 10. 
  • Council tax: The Conservatives have said they won’t carry out any council tax revaluations or increase the number of council tax bands. This promise is part of the party’s “family home tax guarantee”. 
  • Private residence relief: As part of the same guarantee, Hunt has also promised to retain private residence relief. This measure means homeowners don’t currently have to pay capital gains tax when they sell their main home.
  • Stamp duty: The Conservatives have promised they won’t raise stamp duty if they win the election. On top of this, the party has pledged to permanently increase the stamp duty threshold for first-time buyers to £425,000.
  • Inheritance tax: The Conservatives were silent on the topic of inheritance tax in their manifesto. Many Tory voters would have been hoping to see this slashed or even abolished, particularly after Hunt referred to the tax as “profoundly anti-Conservative” in an interview with The Telegraph in May.

What will the general election mean for your pension?

In the first election TV debate, Sunak claimed Labour is coming for your pension – but is this true? Starmer has committed to maintaining the triple lock and has recently done a U-turn on his plans to reintroduce the lifetime allowance, undermining Sunak's claims. 

We share a round-up of the key pension promises that have been announced by both parties.

Triple lock plus

In addition to retaining the triple lock (which both parties have committed to), the Conservatives have promised to increase pensioners’ personal allowance each year in line with earnings, inflation, or 2.5% – whichever measure is highest. 

This measure – dubbed the triple lock plus – is effectively a tax cut which means pensioners will never have to pay tax on their state pension. The full state pension has been creeping closer and closer to the top of the personal allowance in recent years thanks to fiscal drag.

Pensions tax guarantee 

In its manifesto, the Conservative party has committed to a “pensions tax guarantee”. This means it will not introduce any new taxes on retirement savings. This includes maintaining the 25% tax-free lump sum, as well as maintaining tax relief on pension contributions at their marginal rate.

The party has also promised not to extend National Insurance to employer pension contributions.

Lifetime allowance

Hunt scrapped the lifetime allowance in his 2023 Spring Budget, with the change coming into effect at the start of the 2024/2025 tax year. Previously, this measure had set a limit on the total amount savers could put into their pension pots before a tax penalty was due. Prior to 6 April 2024, this was £1,073,100.

Labour criticised the decision at the time and pledged to reinstate it. However, the party has since done a U-turn on this policy. 

Detailed pensions review 

Labour has promised to carry out a detailed review of the pensions and retirement savings landscape, if it gets the keys to office.

“This will mean working with industry and consumer groups to ensure savers are getting the best possible returns, and to identify and tackle the barriers to pension schemes investing more into UK productive assets,” it has said.

Hunt has also been trying to tackle the issue of pension schemes underinvesting in UK assets through his Mansion House reforms.

Getting on the property ladder

Labour has unveiled a “Freedom to Buy” pledge to help get young people on the property ladder. The party says this scheme will help 80,000 young people become first-time buyers over the next five years. 

The policy would be an extended, permanent version of the Conservatives’ mortgage guarantee scheme, which is currently due to expire in June 2025. Mortgage rates have soared in recent years thanks to higher interest rates and Liz Truss’s disastrous mini-Budget. This has turned home ownership into an insurmountable challenge for many. 

Alongside the first-time buyer scheme, Labour said it would reintroduce housing targets and reform the planning system to increase the availability of homes.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives have promised to permanently scrap stamp duty for first-time buyers, up to a threshold of £425,000 (known as the nil-rate threshold). First-time buyers currently enjoy this benefit on a temporary basis, however it is due to expire at the end of March 2025.

In its manifesto, the party has also promised to launch “a new and improved Help to Buy scheme to provide first-time buyers with an equity loan of up to 20% towards the cost of a new build home.” Buyers would only be required to stump up a 5% deposit. 

It has also promised to introduce a tax incentive which encourages landlords to sell to their existing tenants.

Changes to the ISA landscape?

Investors currently face a high tax burden with the dividend and capital gains allowances slashed again in the 2024/2025 tax year. Against this backdrop, the ISA tax wrapper is more valuable than ever. 

Hunt announced plans for a new British ISA in his Spring Budget – an initiative that has been met with a mixed reception by the investment industry. In recent months, the government has been consulting on what this could look like. 

What we know so far is that investors should get a £5,000 additional tax-free allowance, on top of their existing £20,000 ISA allowance. However, they will have to invest it in UK assets. MoneyWeek recently looked at what is rumoured to be included in the British ISA rules.

We don’t know much else about what either party will do with the tax wrapper if they win. However, Labour has previously highlighted the need for simplification. 

Child benefit and free childcare

A string of childcare policies have been announced in the leadup to the general election. 

Labour has promised to convert over 3,300 classrooms into nurseries in schools with spare capacity (due to falling birth rates), creating 100,000 additional nursery places. The party plans to fund the policy by ending tax breaks for private schools. It has also promised free breakfast clubs for primary school children. 

In addition, Starmer’s party has committed to keeping the free childcare reforms introduced under Hunt’s 2023 Spring Budget. Previously, there had been some doubts as to whether Labour would commit to the policy amid concerns about the strain it would put on the sector.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives have been trying to win young families over by promising to increase the threshold at which the child benefit charge kicks in

Currently, child benefit starts to get withdrawn as soon as one parent earns more than £60,000 a year. The Conservatives have promised to double this to £120,000, as well as moving to a system where the entire household’s income is taken into consideration.

Private school fees

One of Starmer’s six “first steps for change” includes recruiting 6,500 new teachers into the state sector, paid for by ending tax breaks for private schools. Starmer has previously said this measure is not an “attack on private schools”, but a move to help fund improvements to the struggling state system. 

Critics of Labour’s policy point out that parents are already struggling to afford private school fees, which have skyrocketed in recent years thanks to high inflation. Fees for the 2023/2024 academic year increased by 8% on average compared to the previous year, according to the Independent Schools Council (ISC). 

Other areas to keep an eye on

Other topics that have cropped up in recent weeks include:

  • Energy: Labour has said it will set up a new publicly-owned clean energy company, paid for using a windfall tax on oil and gas companies. This would “cut bills for good and boost energy security,” the party suggests. Meanwhile, the Conservatives have promised to build new gas power stations to “back up renewables and prevent the prospect of blackouts”. The party has also promised to scale up nuclear power. 
  • “Rip-off” degrees replaced with apprenticeships: The Conservatives have announced plans to scrap degrees with high drop-out rates and poor employment prospects, calling them a “rip off”. The party plans to fund 100,000 apprenticeships each year to offer an alternative. 
  • Rail services: Labour has said it will renationalise almost all passenger rail services within five years. It is also planning automatic refunds for train delays and a “best fare guarantee so that people can always trust that they're getting the lowest fare for their journey,” says shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh. 
  • National service: The Conservatives have said they will introduce some form of national service for 18-year-olds, if they win the general election. This would not involve being conscripted into the armed forces, but would require young people to get involved in community service, dedicating one weekend per month over the course of a year.

Labour vs Conservatives in the polls

According to the BBC’s poll tracker, Labour is comfortably ahead of the Conservatives at the moment with a 21% lead. Meanwhile, a recent favourability poll from YouGov suggests both party leaders are unpopular – albeit Sunak is less well liked than Starmer. 

Only 22% of those polled had a positive view of Sunak versus 70% with a negative view, giving him a net favourability score of -48. This poll was conducted before Sunak’s controversial decision to leave the D-Day commemorations early, so it is possible his popularity has fallen further since then. 

Meanwhile, 37% of those polled had a positive opinion of Starmer versus 50% with a negative view, putting his favourability score at -13. Starmer is less popular than his party, which has a net score of -3. Meanwhile, public opinion on Sunak mirrors that of his party, which has a net score of -46.

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Katie Williams
Staff Writer

Katie has a background in investment writing and is interested in everything to do with personal finance and financial news. 

Before joining MoneyWeek, she worked as a content writer at Invesco, a global asset management firm, which she joined as a graduate in 2019. While there, she enjoyed translating complex topics into “easy to understand” stories. 

She studied English at the University of Cambridge and loves reading, writing and going to the theatre.