Will party promises on tuition fees and pensioner benefits be a vote winner?

The Tories have pledged to secure universal pensioner benefits

The Tories have pledged to secure universal pensioner benefits - Credit: Archant

With just two weeks to go until they cast their votes, we asked our election team whether key policy pledges from the main parties were vote winners or losers.

Labour has promised to cut tuition fees from £9K to £6K

Labour has promised to cut tuition fees from £9K to £6K - Credit: Archant

This week, we look at Labour’s pledge to cut tuition fees from £9K to £6K and the Tory promise to protect universal pensioner benefits including bus passes and winter fuel allowance.

Labour voter Stephen Poxon, 49, who works for The Salvation Army, said the success of the first pledge remained to be seen: “Frankly, it could go either way. As the father of two teenagers, I am watching this one with interest! As ever, it has been left to the Labour Party to take action on behalf of parents and families who might be unable to afford the higher rates. On that basis, I support Labour’s intentions, rooted as they are in the best interests of working class people.”

With regards to pensioner benefits he responded: “My mum is in great need of her bus pass! For that reason, I hope that whichever party comes to power in May will decide to retain bus passes for pensioners. The winter fuel allowance – a Labour idea, incidentally – is based on sound Socialist principles of giving a helping hand to the vulnerable (i.e. the elderly in winter). I am all for it, but it desperately needs to become a means-tested policy. It is absurd that my mum, for example, who needs the allowance just to stay warm, is categorised with a millionaire, who doesn’t.”

Philip Webster, 87, a retired floating voter, was quite dismissive of both pledges: “Labour’s pledge on tuition fees is too small an issue to sway many voters, and Tory pledges for pensioners are a marginal issue.”

Student Spencer Caminsky, 17, was more positive about cuts to tuition fees: “In my opinion for Labour, a sure vote winner. With tuition fees a very prominent political football at the moment due to the Lib Dem fiasco on the subject in the 2010 election, Nick Clegg actually promising the electorate he would scrap tuition fees entirely, which is apparently code for “I’m going to raise them by £3,000”, but Labour seems to have got it just right.

“It’s not as forward as the Green Party, who say they’ll scrap it altogether, arising questions as to how they’re supposed to fund that kind of commitment (a recurring theme among the Green Party campaign recently - see Natalie Bennett’s interview on council housing for details… or should I say lack of details), but not as conservative as the Conservatives, who aim to keep tuition fees as they are. It’ll appeal to young people looking to go to university, and parents worrying about funds. A very good policy that I think could give Labour the edge on education this general election.”

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He also thought protecting pensioner benefits was a vote winner for any party: “State benefits work in a cycle - you’re effectively providing for the generation before yours, when they can’t physically provide for themselves, and on a very basic level, this is positive. People like the idea that their taxes are going to hard-working people, and they like the idea of paying it forward, in that in the long run, you’ll be compensated by the generation after yours. In itself is a nice prospect that people will be in favour of. Also, with the highest turnout coming from people over 65 (at 65 per cent, the highest among all age groups), a significant portion of the current electorate will be in favour of this pledge.”

Alan Morton, 67, another retired floating voter, wasn’t convinced about tuition fees: “I think this will have very little impact. It will sway some first time voters who are considering university and possibly some of their family members.

“However, we are told that graduate intake is still rising despite the hike to £9K and also more apprenticeships are being made available so overall the impact of this promise will be minimal.”

He said there was some merit in means-testing pensioner benefits: “However, I accept the argument that the cost of that would outweigh potential savings, particularly as changes of this magnitude rarely go right first time! The winter fuel allowance has already been reduced during this parliament and a bus pass has to be applied for, so those who don’t need or want a pass probably don’t bother to apply.”

Conservative voter Brian Moores, 64, who works in the street lighting industry, thought cutting tuition fees was a definite vote winner: “Younger voters naturally tend to the left and the prospect of their families not having to fork out £3,000 a year will influence these young voters. This alone would probably eat up all the proceeds from the mansion tax.”

With regards to pensioner benefits, he added: “I do not think these are significant factors as vote changers. The pensioner over-wintering in Spain is unlikely to change their vote if winter fuel allowance is stopped for those who do not need it. Like some other benefits we should be targeting these to those in most need.

“Keeping the bus pass is a good thing giving deserved freedom of movement to older citizens who might not otherwise travel so frequently for appointments and social activities.”

Finally, mum and blogger Penny Carr, 36, doesn’t think cutting tuition fees will make much difference: ”University is now priced out reach for so many families and although this is a significant cut I’m not sure it is enough.”

She thought the Tory pledge on pensioner benefits would depend on the voter: “Pensioners may really support this pledge, but I personally don’t. There are plenty of people who currently receive universal pensioner benefits who really don’t need them and the money involved would be so much better off spent on the pensioners who do need it.”

Next week we look at key policies from the Liberal Democrats, Green Party and UKIP.