Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer's four key election promises so far

We may not have seen the parties' manifestos yet, but the two men vying to be the next PM have already started setting out their promises

Undated file photos of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (left) and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer. Sunak and Starmer will go head to head in the first televised leaders' debate of the General Election campaign next week. ITV confirmed the Prime Minister and the Labour leader will take part in the show at 9pm on Tuesday June 4. Issue date: Wednesday May 29, 2024.
Prime minister Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer have kicked off their campaigns. (PA)

The prime minister and his Labour rival Sir Keir Starmer have been rolling out their pledges ahead of the upcoming general election on 4 July.

Ahead of the two main parties' manifestos being released, Rishi Sunak has wasted no time in making numerous promises to voters as he aims to close the significant gap in polling.

After Sunak called the snap vote last week, the latest YouGov survey showed Labour at 44% and the Tories at 22% – a significant lead that Sunak has sought to overturn with early commitments to national service, a tax cut for pensioners and apprenticeships have already captured significant attention.

Meanwhile, since the election was announced Starmer has pledged to reduce NHS waiting lists, with more pledges expected to be announced in the coming weeks.

Yahoo runs down the key pledges made so far:

On Tuesday, the Conservatives announced a plan to boost pension protection with a “triple lock plus”.

The party set out a £2.4bn-a-year tax break to prevent more retirees being dragged into paying income tax. Sunak promised to increase the income tax personal allowance for pensioners, giving them a tax cut worth around £95 in 2025-26, rising to £275 in 2029-30.

It would mean that both the state pension and the allowance – the amount that can be earned before being liable to income tax – rising by inflation, average wages or 2.5%, whichever is highest.

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On Wednesday, Sunak promised to create 100,000 more apprenticeships a year by axing some “rip-off” university degrees. He said a regulator would look at the progression and drop-out rates of university courses - as well their future earnings potential – to determine whether they are underperforming.

University leaders have warned the policy could “run down and undermine” the higher education sector and deter people from studying for degrees.

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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks at a Q&A during his visit to defence vehicle manufacturer Supacat in Exeter, Devon while on the General Election campaign trail. Picture date: Wednesday May 29, 2024. (Photo by Aaron Chown/PA Images via Getty Images)
Rishi Sunak speaks during his visit to defence vehicle manufacturer Supacat in Exeter. (PA)

Perhaps the most eye-catching pledge so far, Sunak on Saturday, 26 May, announced that 18-year-olds would be forced to carry out a form of national service if the Tories are voted back in.

Young people would be given a choice between a full-time placement in the armed forces for 12 months or spending one weekend a month for a year “volunteering,” in their community, he said.

The prime minister said the policy would help unite society in an “increasingly uncertain world” and give young people a “shared sense of purpose”.

After both main parties ruled out increasing income tax and national insurance there was speculation the absence of mentioning VAT could mean it was in line for an increase.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt took aim at Labour on Wednesday in an article in The Telegraph where he ruled out an increase if the Conservatives won the election.

He wrote: "Today we rule out increases in the rates of income tax and VAT. If Labour don’t do the same, we will be a bit closer to knowing how they will raise £2,094 in taxes from you."

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Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer poses for 'selfies' with student nurses and trainee medics during a visit to Three Counties Medical School in Worcester, while on the General Election campaign trail. Picture date: Wednesday May 29, 2024. (Photo by Stefan Rousseau/PA Images via Getty Images)
Sir Keir Starmer poses for selfies with student nurses and trainee medics. (Getty)

Labour is setting its sights on tackling NHS backlogs, with Starmer detailing the party's first steps to clear waits of more than 18 weeks within five years of taking office.

The party is warning that the treatment backlog, which currently stands at 7.54 million, could rise to 10 million if the Conservatives are in office for another five years.

Labour, Starmer said on Wednesday, would take measures such as creating an additional 40,000 appointments, scans, and operations each week during evenings and weekends and doubling the number of scanners.

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves had already ruled out increasing national insurance and income tax but she responded to Hunt's accusations on Thursday pledging her party would also not increase VAT.

The party does have a much-publicised plan to extend VAT onto private school fees at the standard rate of 20%.

Helen Miller, IFS deputy director, told the PA news agency that ruling out income tax, national insurance and VAT rises "is a major constraint".

Ms Miller said: "Whoever wins the election will face difficult choices. In order to stick to their own fiscal rules, they will have to either raise taxes or cut spending. If parties are ruling out raising taxes, we should expect to see spending cuts."

Outside of the NHS Labour has only announced limited amounts of new spending and has promised to stick to its fiscal rules. Of the few areas where they have pledged to increase spending is in education saying they will hire 6,500 new teachers. Reeves said the policy would be paid for by adding VAT to private schools.

Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson told Sky News: “If you look at the work that the Institute for Fiscal Studies did … they concluded that Labour’s policy would raise £1.3-1.5bn net and we would invest that directly into our state schools – we would make sure we’ve got 6,500 more teachers.”

Read more: Cutting waiting lists to be ‘first step’ of Labour government’s NHS plan (PA)