Election 2015

Election 2015: Parties in battle over living standards

Chancellor George Osborne on a visit to a Pizza Express outlet in Hove Image copyright PA
Image caption Mr Osborne said his goal was the long-term economic security of the nation

The Conservatives and Lib Dems have heralded pre-election figures showing rising household incomes as proof that their economic strategy is working.

Disposable incomes per head were 0.2% higher at the end of 2014 than when the government came to power in May 2010.

Chancellor George Osborne said stronger growth and rising consumer confidence represented a "hat-trick" of good news.

But Labour said living standards were still being squeezed following "the slowest recovery in 100 years".

The latest bulletin on the state of the UK economy from the Office for National Statistics is the last to be published before the general election on 7 May, in which economic management and living standards will be crucial issues.

In the other main developments on day two of the official election campaign:

  • Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood called for £1.2bn in extra annual funding to "unleash the economic potential of Wales" as she launched its manifesto
  • The Lib Dems promised to spend an extra £3.5bn on mental health while Labour said it would cut business rates for small firms in its first Budget
  • David Cameron refused to rule out taxing disability benefits as part of future welfare cuts and also defended the number of personal attacks on Ed Miliband, saying he made "no apology for putting Labour on the table"
  • UKIP leader Nigel Farage accused David Cameron of making a "sham promise" on immigration at the last election
  • SNP said Trident would be a "red line" in any post-election negotiations
  • Film director Ken Loach launched the Left Unity's party manifesto in a squat in London

Official figures published on Tuesday showed British households were slightly better off in the fourth quarter of 2014 than they were when the coalition came to power.

The government's preferred measure - real household disposable incomes per head - was 0.2% higher in the final three months of 2014 than in the second quarter of 2010 - although figures for the whole of 2014 were lower than those for 2010.

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Media captionThe prime minister pledged to create 1,000 jobs a day if he were re-elected
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Media captionNick Clegg said the Tories would make excessive cuts because they would not make the wealthiest pay "a penny more"
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Media captionUKIP leader Nigel Farage: "We cannot control immigration as members of the European Union"

It came as figures for economic growth in 2014 were revised upwards to 2.8% and separate indicators suggested economic confidence was at a 12-year high.

In response. Mr Osborne tweeted: "Hat trick of good news just out from ONS: GDP revised up, consumer confidence up, living standards up."


And Lib Dem Treasury Minister Danny Alexander said it was a vindication of the party's influence on their Conservative coalition partners.

"Handing back control of our economy to either Labour or the Tories in government on their own in this election will put all this hard-earned progress at risk," he said.

Analysis by economics editor Robert Peston

It has been a recovery much slower than in any recession since 1945, but it is now reasonable to say that living standards are back to where they were at the time of the last election.

The politically resonant number published today is that real household disposable income per head on 31 December 2014 was 0.19% higher than it was at the end of May 2010.

Now let's be clear about this. That is basically a sneeze higher. It is trivial. It's loose change at the bottom of your purse. But it is higher.

Read Robert's full blog

But shadow chancellor Ed Balls, speaking at a campaign event in Swindon, said Conservatives were "telling people you have never had it so good" despite it being the "slowest recovery for 100 years".

"This is a government which has presided over five years when wages have not kept pace with rising prices and family bills," he said.

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Media captionEd Balls: "We've shown in a range of areas how we can save hundreds of millions of pounds"
Image caption Plaid want to use their influence in a hung Parliament to get more funding for Wales

"George Osborne and David Cameron want to spend the next six weeks going round the country saying you are better off. Election fight over living standards

"I say 'bring it on' because working people are really struggling in our country and we can do better than this."

Policy guide: Economy

This issue includes the wider economy and deficit reduction but also employment and the role of business.

The second day of official campaigning has seen a flurry of pledges on jobs, tax and health, with the Lib Dems saying their manifesto would commit them to increasing total spend on mental healthcare to £3.5bn over the next six years.

This would include £250m over five years for new services for mothers suffering from depression and to help reduce waiting times for treatment.

Full BBC Election 2015 coverage

Equality for people with mental health issues is a "liberal mission", leader Nick Clegg said, adding the party would "make sure mental health is treated with the same urgency as physical health, with money to back that up, and challenge the stigma every day".


David Cowling, editor, BBC Political Research

Image copyright Reuters

Following the flurry caused by YouGov's 4% Labour lead this Sunday, we had three polls on Monday telling a different story. Populus had Conservative and Labour tied on 34%; Ashcroft had a 2% Conservative lead (36% versus 34%) and ComRes had a 4% Conservative lead (36% versus 32%).

Among all four polls, the average Lib Dem rating was 8%, UKIP's was 13% and the Greens at around 6%. We've barely started our long road to 7 May but perhaps this campaign will develop into a battle of methodologies - telephone versus internet polls.

The two telephone polls (Ashcroft and ComRes) had the highest Conservative ratings - 36% each; and the two internet polls (YouGov and Populus) had the lowest - 34% and 32%. YouGov represented a 5.5% swing from Conservative to Labour, enough to give Labour a majority: ComRes suggested a 1.5% swing to Labour, barely a ripple on the election pond.

BBC Poll tracker

Conservative leader David Cameron set out a "positive vision" for two million more jobs by 2020, saying the UK could exceed independent forecasts predicting half that total.

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Media captionJoey Essex revealed that prior to meeting Nick Clegg he believed the deputy PM's party was called the "Liberal Democats"

"We have kept tax low for business, we have encouraged people to invest in our country, we have invested in skills, we have trained two million apprentices in this Parliament," he told BBC Breakfast.

However, Mr Cameron said he would not stop making Labour's tax and spending plans an issue, suggesting the opposition had "not even reached base camp" in terms of setting out their deficit reduction plans.

Labour has been highlighting its existing plan to cut business rates for small business properties and then freeze them by promising to take action in its first Budget.

The party says the measure would save businesses an average of £400 and would be funded by cancelling a planned cut in corporation tax for large companies planned by the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition.

"This is the right priority when money is tight," Mr Balls said.

"And it will mean that the tax burden on small businesses will be lower with Labour than under the Tories."

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