How women have deserted the Tories at the polls

The party once attracted far more female than male support but since 2005 the reverse has been true.

David Cameron may have insisted that his party does not have a "problem with women" at today's PMQs (as he stood in front of an entirely male frontbench) but the polls tell a different story. The latest YouGov survey gives Labour a three-point lead among men (36-33) but a nine-point lead among women (42-33). 

The female vote was once one of the Tories' greatest electoral assets, with the party consistently attracting more support from women than men, but since 2005 the reverse has been true. In 1992, the female-male gender gap [% Female Con Vote - % Female Lab Vote] minus [% Male Con Vote -% Male Lab Vote] stood at six points in the Tories' favour but it fell to two points in 1997, to one point in 2001 and to minus six in 2005 (among men, the Tories and Labour were tied on 34 per cent). At the last election, the gender gap stood at minus five and, as I've noted, it currently stands at minus six. Here are the numbers in full. 

How men and women voted

1979

Men

Conservative 43

Labour 40

Women

Conservative 47

Labour 35

Female-male gender gap: +9

1983

Men 

Conservative 42

Labour 30

Women

Conservative 46

Labour 26

Female-male gender gap: +8

1987

Men 

Conservative 43

Labour 32

Women

Conservative 43

Labour 32

Female-male gender gap: 0

1992

Men 

Conservative 41

Labour 37

Women

Conservative 44

Labour 34

Female-male gender gap: +6

1997

Men 

Conservative 31

Labour 45

Women

Conservative 32

Labour 44

Female-male gender gap: +2

2001

Men 

Conservative 32

Labour 42

Women

Conservative 33

Labour 42

Female-male gender gap: +1

2005

Men 

Conservative 34

Labour 34

Women

Conservative 32

Labour 38

Female-male gender gap: -6

2010 

Men 

Conservative 38

Labour 28

Women

Conservative 36

Labour 31

Female-male gender gap: -5

David Cameron walks along Downing Street on February 4, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Theresa May's U-Turn may have just traded one problem for another

The problems of the policy have been moved, not eradicated. 

That didn’t take long. Theresa May has U-Turned on her plan to make people personally liable for the costs of social care until they have just £100,000 worth of assets, including property, left.

As the average home is valued at £317,000, in practice, that meant that most property owners would have to remortgage their house in order to pay for the cost of their social care. That upwards of 75 per cent of baby boomers – the largest group in the UK, both in terms of raw numbers and their higher tendency to vote – own their homes made the proposal politically toxic.

(The political pain is more acute when you remember that, on the whole, the properties owned by the elderly are worth more than those owned by the young. Why? Because most first-time buyers purchase small flats and most retirees are in large family homes.)

The proposal would have meant that while people who in old age fall foul of long-term degenerative illnesses like Alzheimers would in practice face an inheritance tax threshold of £100,000, people who die suddenly would face one of £1m, ten times higher than that paid by those requiring longer-term care. Small wonder the proposal was swiftly dubbed a “dementia tax”.

The Conservatives are now proposing “an absolute limit on the amount people have to pay for their care costs”. The actual amount is TBD, and will be the subject of a consultation should the Tories win the election. May went further, laying out the following guarantees:

“We are proposing the right funding model for social care.  We will make sure nobody has to sell their family home to pay for care.  We will make sure there’s an absolute limit on what people need to pay. And you will never have to go below £100,000 of your savings, so you will always have something to pass on to your family.”

There are a couple of problems here. The proposed policy already had a cap of sorts –on the amount you were allowed to have left over from meeting your own care costs, ie, under £100,000. Although the system – effectively an inheritance tax by lottery – displeased practically everyone and spooked elderly voters, it was at least progressive, in that the lottery was paid by people with assets above £100,000.

Under the new proposal, the lottery remains in place – if you die quickly or don’t require expensive social care, you get to keep all your assets, large or small – but the losers are the poorest pensioners. (Put simply, if there is a cap on costs at £25,000, then people with assets below that in value will see them swallowed up, but people with assets above that value will have them protected.)  That is compounded still further if home-owners are allowed to retain their homes.

So it’s still a dementia tax – it’s just a regressive dementia tax.

It also means that the Conservatives have traded going into the election’s final weeks facing accusations that they will force people to sell their own homes for going into the election facing questions over what a “reasonable” cap on care costs is, and you don’t have to be very imaginative to see how that could cause them trouble.

They’ve U-Turned alright, but they may simply have swerved away from one collision into another.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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