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i’s political editors answer your questions on tax, private schools and Brexit

Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer were grilled by Sky News political editor Beth Ridge on Wednesday evening, before the audience were given a turn to interrogate the party leaders.

While Sunak was repeatedly challenged on the NHS, immigration and his D-Day debacle, Starmer was forced to defend policy U-turns and supporting former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

As the interviews were underway, i‘s Political Editor Hugo Gye and Policy Editor Jane Merrick were on hand to answer reader questions.

Here’s what they had to say:

Reader question: Where are all the private school pupils going to go in September if their parents can’t afford the increase of VAT to the fees? There are no school places as it is.

Asked by Stephanie Wood via the i blog

Hugo Gye’s response: Analysis from the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggests that the proportion of children who would be withdrawn from private schools if Labour’s plan to put VAT on fees is enacted is around 3 to 7 per cent of the total – which would lead to only a modest increase in the number of pupils in the state sector.

These conclusions are highly uncertain, because we do not know whether private schools would pass on the full cost of the VAT to parents or how many parents would respond by taking their children out of the sector altogether.

This week a Labour frontbencher, Emily Thornberry, suggested that the policy would push up pressure on state classrooms in the short term, but she was rapidly slapped down by Sir Keir Starmer.

Reader question: What are the leaders’ policies on the environment and climate change? 

Question from John Ramsbottom via the i blog

Jane Merrick’s response: Climate change is one of the biggest priorities for voters yet arguably has been under-represented in this campaign. Both leaders say they will stick to the target to reach net zero by 2050 – but knowing that neither man will be in Downing Street in the run-up to that deadline.

The Tory manifesto says net zero will be achieved using a “pragmatic, proportionate and realistic approach that eases the burdens on working people” including spending £6bn to make households more energy efficient. But solar and onshore wind face greater planning restrictions. They have pledged to decarbonise electricity by 2035.

Labour says it will achieve that by 2030, using its new publicly-owned Great British Energy. Yet Kier Starmer has been criticised for rowing back on his earlier pledge for £28bn of green investment.

Reader question: Higher education is in crisis with universities losing approx £4,000 per home student and difficulty recruiting overseas students due to the hostile environment created by this government. What plans do you have to get HE back on track before they go bankrupt?

Asked by Louise Stonard via the i blog

Hugo Gye’s reponse: Higher education is another crucial issue that has not come up much during this election.

Experts are increasingly worried that universities could go bust as a result of a fragile funding model, which could be made worse by a crackdown on immigration.

The Conservatives and Labour have both pledged a new focus on technical education, but this promise has been made by various parties over the years and never quite seems to materialise.

Reader question: Why won’t Labour increase capital gains tax?

Asked by Tony Henry via the i blog

Hugo Gye’s response: Capital gains tax was levied at 30 per cent for decades, then raised to 40 per cent for the highest earners until 2008, when it was drastically cut by Gordon Brown.

The rate now varies between 10 and 28 per cent, depending on the status of the taxpayer and the type of the capital gain. Crucially, Labour has not actually ruled out raising capital gains tax – although it says it has “no plans” to increase the levy.

If the party does gain power and decide it needs more cash to spend, this tax will prove more attractive than income tax, national insurance or VAT; but increasing it could risk curbing investment in the economy, which is crucial for long-term growth, and this may give Labour pause.

Reader question: What are you going to do to help carers working full time, and caring for a loved one full time? I work full time as an NHS community support worker, study part time, and care for a parent the rest of my time.

I save the NHS money by not asking for help, I don’t begrudge caring but there is no financial benefit available to me. Sometimes I wonder if I’d be better off quitting work and claiming benefits and caring full time. Please could you explain how you can help people like me?

Question from Sarah via the i blog

Jane Merrick’s response: Both Sunak and Starmer have pledged to do more to help both the paid and unpaid care workforce – but given there are more than a million unpaid carers in the UK, it is a fair question to ask why the current Government has not done more to help them before the election.

The Conservatives say they have increased Carer’s Allowance by almost £1,500 since 2010 and given employees who are also carers a period of unpaid leave.

We will have to wait until tomorrow to see what the Labour manifesto says about unpaid carers, but in April, Starmer said he was “concerned” about the number of people being chased for overpayments of the Carer’s Allowance.

Reader question: On the new policy removing the national insurance tax on the self-employed, how will they obtain credits towards the 35 years contribution required for a full pension?

Asked by Libby Price via the i blog

Hugo Gye’s response: The Conservatives announced in their manifesto yesterday that as well as their long-term ambition to end employee national insurance contributions (NICs) entirely, they would immediately cut the rate by another 2p – and abolish the contributions for the self-employed.

You are right to point out that this leaves one big unanswered question: given that NICs are currently used to determine eligibility for the state pension, how would the Tories introduce a replacement scheme to govern that eligibility?

One option is to shift the criteria over to income tax payments, but it is by no means certain that that is what would happen.

Reader question: What actions can be taken to finalise the referendum result taken in June 2016 as determined by the British electorate?

Asked by Barrie Greatorex via the i blog

Hugo Gye’s response: The UK has left the EU, which was the question on the ballot paper on 23 June, 2016. But it is true that many of the promises made by the Leave campaign have not yet been delivered: regaining full sovereignty has proven harder than was claimed, and most economists believe that Brexit has harmed the UK’s economic growth over the past few years.

That’s why it’s so surprising that neither party leader has spoken openly about their plans for the future of Britain’s relationship with the EU – neither Rishi Sunak nor Keir Starmer has laid out much detail about how they would seek to handle this crucial issue over the years to come.

Reader question: How can shared owners trapped in unaffordable & unsellable flats due to sky-high service charge and onerous ground rent clauses escape what a recent Commons committee report called the ‘unbearable reality’ of shared ownership?

Asked by Sophie Taylor via the i blog

Hugo Gye’s response: A number of readers have got in touch asking about the future of leasehold reform, which is a huge issue for those affected.

The Leasehold and Freehold Reform Act, which became law on the last day Parliament sat before the election, is intended to stop this being a problem in future because it makes leasehold sales of new homes illegal in most circumstances.

It also expands the rights of existing leaseholders, putting curbs on the behaviour of freeholders. Labour has promised to go further, abolishing the system of leasehold altogether – raising the prospect of further legislation if the Opposition wins the election.

Reader question: What happens in the studio when the TV debates cut to an ad break? Are the leaders allowed to discuss with their teams what is going right or wrong? Does this explain Starmer’s belated denial over his tax plans (during the ITV debate)?

Question from Phil Messingham via i blog

Jane Merrick’s response: It depends on the format. For last week’s ITV debate, where the leaders were at podiums taking questions throughout the programme, they were likely to have had access to phones to check with their teams during the ad break.

So yes, this would perhaps explain why Keir Starmer seemed to be better briefed on a response over Sunak’s £2,000 tax claim later in the debate.

For tonight’s programme, each leader will be interviewed separately by Beth Rigby before taking audience questions. If there is an ad break in the middle of their segment, they might be able to get advice from aides – but the programme will have moved on to the audience phase.

Election 2024

Rishi Sunak, Sir Keir Starmer and other party leaders are on the campaign trail, and i‘s election live blog is the go-to place for everything on the general election.

On Monday, the Lib Dems launched their manifesto followed by the Tory manifesto launch on Tuesday, which included a further cut to national insurance. On Wednesday, the Green Party launched their manifesto, which they hope will secure them some important seats.

Labour has launched several policies ahead of the publication of its manifesto, but the full document is expected later this week.

i has urged the parties to commit to its Save Britain’s Rivers manifesto to improve our waterways. The Lib Dems became the first to back the campaign, followed by the Green Party.

Got a question for our politics experts? i’s Hugo Gye and Jane Merrick will be answering your questions live during the leaders’ debate later today. Submit your questions here.

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