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Stretching Credibility

November 25, 2019 12:07 PM

Having returned from delivering leaflets in Great Cornard I was in time to catch the launch of the Conservative manifesto. Once again the Prime Minister made claims which didn't stand up to scrutiny. Lets just take two areas

1. Health

Launching his manifesto in Telford, the prime minister said that Conservatives would deliver 50,000 more nurses, 6,000 more doctors and 50 million more GP surgery appointments each year as part of "the biggest cash boost for the NHS for a generation", worth an extra £34 billion by the end of the next parliament

However soon after party sources confirmed that the 50,000 figure includes an estimated 18,500 existing nurses who will be encouraged to remain within the NHS or attracted back after leaving by new measures to improve career development opportunities. So they are not additions! Indeed Of the remainder 12,000 would come from abroad who will be required to pay a £464 annual visa branded a "nurse tax" by the Lib Dems

Ironically this "pledge" was made on the day the Lib Dems released data collected under the Freedom of Information Act which showed more than 11,000 EU nationals have left the NHS since the Brexit referendum, including almost 5,000 nurses. These new figures will add fuel to concerns about a wider staffing crisis. So far this year more than 3,250 EU staff have left the NHS,

There is also evidence that as more EU health workers leave, fewer nurses are arriving. Recent figures from the Nursing and Midwifery Council show that the number of nurses arriving from the EU dropped by 87% from 6,382 in 2016-17 to 805 in 2017-18.

Luciana Berger, the Lib Dem's health spokeswoman, said: "These damning documents reveal the major threat Brexit poses to our NHS, including in Boris Johnson's own backyard where EU staff are worried about their future here. The Conservatives' treatment of nurses and doctors from the EU has been utterly shameful. Now the Tories want to clobber them with a nurse tax worth thousands of pounds to come and work in the NHS. This will make the severe staff shortages faced by the NHS even worse and patient care will suffer."

2 Tax and Spend

The influential and independent Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has accused the Conservatives of pushing a "fundamentally damaging narrative" in promising more money for health, pensions and schools without raising the money in tax, NIC or VAT to pay for them.

Commenting on the Conservative Party manifesto, Paul Johnson, IFS Director, said:

If the Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos were notable for the scale of their ambitions the Conservative one is not. If a single Budget had contained all these tax and spending proposals we would have been calling it modest. As a blueprint for five years in government the lack of significant policy action is remarkable.

In part that is because the chancellor announced some big spending rises back In September. Other than for health and schools, though, that was a one-off increase. Taken at face value today's manifesto suggests that for most services, in terms of day-to-day spending, that's it. Health and school spending will continue to rise. Give or take pennies, other public services, and working age benefits, will see the cuts to their day-to-day budgets of the last decade baked in.

One notable omission is any plan for social care. In his first speech as prime minister Boris Johnson promised to "fix the crisis in social care once and for all". After two decades of dither by both parties in government it seems we are no further forward.
On the tax side the rise in the National Insurance threshold was well trailed. The ambition for it to get to £12,500 may remain, but only the initial rise to £9,500 has been costed and firmly promised. Most in paid work would benefit, but by less than £2 a week. Another £6 billion would need to be found to get to £12,500 by the end of the parliament. Given the pressures on the spending side that is not surprising.

Perhaps the biggest, and least welcome, announcement is the "triple tax lock": no increases in rates of income tax, NICs or VAT. That's a constraint the chancellor may come to regret. It is also part of a fundamentally damaging narrative - that we can have the public services we want, with more money for health and pensions and schools - without paying for them. We can't.