General Election 2015: Grey matters

Election fever is growing. As the 7th of May draws ever closer, the main political parties are becoming increasingly frenzied in their proclamations about every area of government. There are claims and counter-claims, promises and accusations spewing forth from every one of the main parties.

The Conservatives are leading their campaign with promises to eradicate the economic deficit by 2018, cut income tax for 30 million people and freeze VAT. With the March Budget focussing in parts on the lives of those over the age of fifty, Saga’s review of the statement highlights how the Chancellor George Osborne tried to boost the Tories’ appeal to older voters by allowing retired people to cash in annuities for lump sum pay outs.

The Labour Party’s big story meanwhile is the commitment of an extra £2.5 billion to the National Health Service – money that would in part be raised by the controversial ‘mansion tax.’

In an ongoing battle to distance themselves from their coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats are making bold claims to ‘cut £50 billion less than the Conservatives’ and ‘borrow £70 billion less than Labour.’

The NHS features highly on all parties’ priorities lists, although their policies vary considerably. The Scottish National Party, for example, says it will reduce the number of NHS senior managers by 25%, while Plaid Cymru has pledged to recruit 1000 extra doctors to work for the Welsh NHS. The United Kingdom Independence Party, perhaps predictably, marries the NHS to the European Union. The party claims it will raise NHS funding by £3 billion in part by quitting the EU.

At time of writing, Labour are leading the polls with a 34% share of the vote, although the Conservatives don’t lag far behind with 31%. In fact, the election promises to be extremely close-run, with marginal seats being closely contested. In many marginal seats it’s the grey vote that holds the power, in part because older people are more likely to exercise their right to vote, but also because, as a proportion of the voting population, the older voter contingent is larger than ever before.

So, whose manifesto puts the grey voter at centre stage? Right now, and throughout their time in parliament, the Conservative Party has committed itself to the needs of the elderly. Despite making huge cuts across the benefits system, the party has very deliberately protected funds directly related to older people. The results of this commitment to the older voter are clear in the polls, with some four out of ten ‘grey voters’ stating their intention to vote for the Tories. David Cameron has publicly promised to maintain this protective stance around pensioner benefits such as the winter fuel allowance, free bus passes and free TV licences.

By contrast, Labour has said it will no longer give winter fuel payments to the wealthiest 5% of pensioners and the Liberal Democrats intend to introduce means-testing to free TV licences. However, on arguably bigger issues, Labour has much to offer the older voter, particularly when it comes to health and social care. Guaranteed GP appointments within forty-eight hours, 5,000 new care workers to support people in their homes and pooled home-to-hospital services with dedicated single points of contact are all features of the Labour party’s manifesto.

On the day of the election, every vote counts and that of a ‘grey voter’ could have particular impact. Whether your priorities are dictated by your age and personal circumstances or the success and wellbeing of the broader British population, now’s the time to digest, consider and make your Election 2015 choice.

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