The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Cameron’s Health Budget Gamble

Posted by The Futility Monster on December 5, 2009 @ 10:10

Insert generic hospital related image here. Though I'm pretty sure this one isn't British...

Back when the economy was doing well, Cameron made a pledge. It was sensible at the time as a way of nullifying the issue of whether the Tories could be trusted with the NHS.

Cameron said that an incoming Tory government would match Labour spending plans. The implicit expectation behind that was that Labour would be continuing to increase NHS spending in real terms, and so the Tories would do the same. The consequence of that would be to tell people that the days of nasty Conservatives and budget cuts for the sake of it were over. Reinforcing the message was Cameron’s professed ‘love’ for the NHS.

The pledge to match Labour’s spending plans on the NHS has now been quietly forgotten, replaced instead with a promise to “ringfence” the NHS budget. An idea that Labour have interestingly not backed, while blustering about how much they are going to continue investing in the future.

Of course, none of it is possible. To ringfence the NHS budget in a time of major spending cuts would mean that other departments have to take a much greater share of the pain.

But more spending on the NHS is somewhat inevitable. The population is ageing, and health cost inflation is notoriously high, due to the expensive nature of new patented drugs entering the market. Match that with rising obesity, and a rising population, and the combination is deadly.

We’ll get more idea next week what Labour’s plans are in the pre-Budget report. And I fully expect Alistair Darling to be fairly specific. After all, it makes no sense to be about to legislate for a halving of the deficit if you have no real plans to save money. If they don’t, it’s tantamout to sticking yet another “Kick Me” post-it note on the back of Gordon Brown’s head.

But the other reason to be specific is as a way to back the Tories into a corner, to say that they are not ready for government; that they aren’t prepared to take the big decisions that a sensible government will have to take in this economic climate. And yes, we’ll hear a lot more about Tory inheritance tax policy, but that’s incidental.

But at the same time, Labour are hardly likely to unveil their own huge spending cuts either. Those will be saved till after the election when it’s too late for the voters to complain. And that will be the same whoever wins the election. Such is the nature of democracy.

I think, however, that Cameron will live to regret the many soundbites he’s made about the NHS budgets. After all, there is just as much scope for saving money there as there is in any other department. He will either have to reverse his position – potentially embarrassing – or have to put his words into action, which may be needlessly damaging to other departments that will bear the brunt of the maintained spending levels on health.

How are all these competing demands going to be resolved?

An honest politician might tell you that they’re not.

But there are no honest politicians…

Nevertheless, it’s going to be fascinating to see how the two major parties explain the situation and their plans to deal with it over the coming year.

And if they go in too harshly? Well, there’s that old W shaped recession on the horizon.

Bizarrely, maybe maintaining spending on the NHS will help to avoid that.

It would be richly ironic if a Tory government, spending more on a major area of public spending, stopped us going into another recession as a consequence.

We live in rather strange times…

One Response to “Cameron’s Health Budget Gamble”

  1. […] Cameron’s Health Budget Gamble […]

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