Our top social issue moments of the 2017 General Election Campaign

Posted on June 09, 2017

Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament

Sara Halliday

The votes are in. The nation shocked, and everyone is frantically checking their social media feeds to try to understand what happens now.

Whatever the future, it’s safe to say that the 2017 UK General Election campaign will probably go down in history as a contest nobody expected, no one (except potentially now Jeremy Corbyn) seems to have enjoyed, and very, very few people predicted would end as dramatically as it did at about 10pm last night.

Trailed as the Brexit election, this campaign featured little, if any, debate or dissection of the two main parties’ Brexit plans. Something that now, as the uncertainty increases hour by hour, is quickly becoming problem – with the first round of Brexit negotiations still scheduled to start in days.

Instead the media’s focus over the last few weeks was again dominated by opinion poll drama, some memorable soundbites, and the contrasting styles, tactics and personalities of the two main party leaders.

Yet, while the battle raged to make this into a more presidential than party-led election, some big social debates did manage to cut through all the soundbites and fury.

As we all wait for the dust to settle from the last 24 hours, here are just some of TSIP’s big social issue moments from #GeneralElection2017.

Paying the bill for social care

Following the launch of their manifesto, the Conservatives almost immediately found their plans for social care subject to intense scrutiny.

The proposals – dubbed ‘the dementia tax’ by opponents – set out three main reforms: a) to raise the means testing threshold at which older people would be expected to contribute to their social care from £23,250 to £100,000; b) to include the value of an older person’s family home in that threshold for not only those people receiving residential care or in a nursing home (as at present), but also those being cared for at home; and c) extending the option for people to delay paying for their care until after their death – beyond again just those living in residential care or a nursing home – to older people being cared for at home.

The reaction on the doorstep, and nationally, was almost all negative. According to the Independent (Monday 22 June), “A Survation survey, conducted entirely after Thursday’s Tory manifesto launch, found 28 per cent of voters said they were less likely to vote Conservative because of the social care package.” In response, Mrs May denied a U-turn, but promised a cap on costs and green paper for consultation in the future.

Can charities speak out?

During the 2015 General Election, charity leaders and charities warned that the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014  was preventing many of them from speaking out.

Those same fears and concerns resurfaced again during the 2017 campaign, prompting the NCVO and the Electoral Commission to issue further clarification and guidance. In light of this, Labour reaffirmed its commitment to scrap the Act, while Liberal Democrat Health Spokesperson, Norman Lamb, spoke of the ‘chilling effect’ the legislation had already had.

The campaign to save universal free school meals – lunches versus breakfasts

Seen by some as another manifesto misstep, the Conservative’s plans to replace free school lunches for infant school children with a free breakfast for all primary school pupils were challenged by teachers’ leaders, political opponents and celebrity chefs alike.

The Conservatives propose that breakfast is a more cost-effective way to help young children learn than providing a hot school dinner. But Henry Dimbleby, co-founder of the Leon restaurant chain and co-author of the School Food Plan, claimed this was a false economy. 

Long-term school food champion, Jamie Oliver also joined the fray. While, teachers’ unions argued that schools had been encouraged to invest millions of pounds equipping themselves to provide free school lunches for their pupils – only for the government’s assurances to be reversed, without a proper review of the current policy’s impact. 

This is a debate that is likely to continue beyond polling day

​Leaders and their manifestos

History is strewn with the awkward silences and tortured answers of politicians stumped in in interviews. 

It’s a proud tradition that was continued throughout this General Election. Take Jeremy Corbyn’s visit to Woman’s Hour to discuss his party’s plans to offer 30 hours of free childcare to 2 year olds. 

Questioned by the presenter Emma Barnett on how Labour planned to pay for the measures, Mr Corbyn struggled to give her an answer, replying “It will cost erm. It will obviously cost a lot to do so, we accept that.”

The Labour Leader did clarify the figures (£5.3 billion a year by the end of the next parliament) in a webchat with Mumsnet shortly after, but only after he’d attempted to log into his iPad mid-interview with Woman’s Hour to get the cost. 

Of course, Jeremy Corbyn wasn’t alone in this. Back in April, Theresa May was roundly criticised for her answer to a question posed by Andrew Marr about nurses being forced to rely on foodbanks. 

During his Sunday morning show, Marr pressed the Prime Minister that this was “surely wrong”. In response, Theresa May stated, "There are many complex reasons why people go to food banks.” An answer that many, in turn, found incredibly problematic and out of touch in and of itself.

What were your major social moments of the #GeneralElection? Let us know what we might have missed @TSIPtweets.