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MSE Leaders' Debate 2024: What we discovered in their answers on six key consumer issues

From online scams to Carer's Allowance, we round up the most interesting responses from the seven main party leaders on six key consumer issues. Their answers form part of their replies to our Leaders' Debate ahead of the general election on Thursday 4 July. 

Below we've focused on what we've learned that we didn't know before (or hadn't seen elsewhere). You can read all of the leaders' full responses in detail in the (MSE) Leaders' Debate.

1. Carer's Allowance

What MSE has called for: An end to the Carer's Allowance "cliff-edge", and an urgent solution to the issues with Carer's Allowance that have left many carers facing demands to repay £1,000s in accidentally-overpaid benefit.

What we learned from the MSE Leaders' Debate:

  • Liberal Democrats leader Sir Ed Davey pledged to introduce an earnings taper (replacing the cliff-edge), increase Carer's Allowance by £20 a week, and to stop pursuing carers for overpayments.
  • Labour's Sir Keir Starmer committed to look into issues with back payments "right away", adding: "I can see no reason why carers cannot be immediately alerted if they go over the earnings threshold."
  • SNP leader John Swinney said that its MPs in Westminster would call on the Government to "halt unfair Department for Work and Pensions repayment demands," while Plaid Cymru leader Rhun ap Iorwerth said he would seek devolved powers to replace Carer's Allowance with a non-means-tested "Universal Carer's Income".

2. Scams and online fraud

What MSE has called for: Urgent regulation to help prevent criminals paying for ads on social media and elsewhere online in order to scam innocent people out of their money.

What we learned from the MSE Leaders' Debate:

  • Labour's Keir Starmer pledged to ensure that tech companies have a clear obligation and financial incentive to work with banks and law enforcement to prevent scams, track down fraudsters and support victims, adding: "Britain's banks do most of the work of trying to prevent and detect fraudulent transactions, and bear all the cost of reimbursing victims, but the tech giants do little or nothing for either effort."
  • Liberal Democrats' Ed Davey said he would require banks to reimburse victims of bank transfer scams (also known as 'authorised push payment' or 'APP' scams) unless there is clear evidence that the victim was at fault. He would also name and shame the banks with the worst record of preventing fraud and reimbursing victims, and create a new Online Crime Agency to tackle illegal content and activity online.

3. Lifetime ISAs (LISAs)

What MSE has called for: A LISA overhaul. Young savers should not be essentially fined – and lose their hard-saved cash – when they purchase homes above the scheme's £450,000 limit.

What we learned from MSE Leaders' Debate:

  • Liberal Democrat and SNP leaders Ed Davey and John Swinney both said they would look to scrap the penalty paid by those who are priced out of buying a property in their area with their LISA.
  • Conservative leader Rishi Sunak said: "We believe that the property price cap is set at an appropriate level to support most first-time buyers across the UK while targeting households that may find it most difficult to get onto the property ladder. However, we will always keep the level of the cap under review to ensure it remains appropriate."
  • Labour leader Keir Starmer didn't reference the Lifetime ISA at all in his response, instead prioritising other measures for first-time buyers.

4. Buy now, pay later (BNPL)

What MSE has called for: Regulation, so that the same or similar rules that apply to other forms of debt also protect people using BNPL. That includes the ability to take complaints to the Financial Ombudsman Service, and to give Section 75 protection to these types of payments.

What we learned from the MSE Leaders' Debate:

  • Conservative, Labour and SNP leaders all reiterated their commitments to bring BNPL products under the regulation of the Financial Conduct Authority. 
  • Liberal Democrat, Plaid Cymru and Reform UK leaders supported strong safeguards and protections for BNPL – but weren't specific about bringing it under full regulation.

5. Car and home insurance price hikes

What MSE has called for: We haven't put specific calls to the Government on this issue but we are very concerned about rapidly rising premiums and have discussed the situation with policymakers behind the scenes.

What we learned from the MSE Leaders' Debate:

  • The Labour leader was the only one to specifically make any commitments on insurance. Keir Starmer pledged to: "take action... by calling in the Competition and Markets Authority and urging the Financial Conduct Authority to launch urgent investigations into the rising cost of car insurance, including investigating whether postcode pricing practices are unfairly targeting ethnic minorities and those on lower incomes".

6. WASPI women and pension inequality

What campaigners have called for: Campaign groups representing women born in the 1950s say millions of them have lost years of their state pension entitlement because they weren't properly informed that their state pension age was going up, leaving them without enough time to make other financial arrangements. We have covered these campaigns on the MSE website and boosted the issue behind the scenes.

Recently, the Parliamentary Ombudsman ruled that there were significant failings in the way the Government communicated the changes, and that affected women should be due compensation. However, the Government did not respond to the Ombudsman's report before Parliament was dissolved.

What we learned from the MSE Leaders' Debate:

  • The Liberal Democrat and SNP leaders pledged to push for proper compensation for the women affected, with Plaid Cymru and the Green Party also in support.
  • Labour leader Keir Starmer committed to picking up the work of Government that he says was "kicked into the long grass" by the Conservatives.
  • Rishi Sunak said the Conservatives are "carefully considering the Ombudsman report into WASPI women, and we will work with MPs to provide an appropriate and swift response".

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