The appliance of science

Personally, I blame Hans Christian Andersen for Ian Flintoff's scepticism (Letters, 20 November) about the threat of climate change being to do with excess energy usage. "Naive and bad science", he calls it. And doubtless, if you were brought up being read stories about the clever little boy who spotted that the Danish king's new clothes consisted of his birthday suit alone, you might also be inclined to relish dismissing the whole concept out of hand.

It is very quixotically attractive to think that all the 3,000 or more scientists involved with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change over the past decade may have concluded wrongly. And that, therefore, burning so many fossil fuels wastefully is not mucking up the climate. However, given the options, I think I would rather not risk it.

Andrew Warren
Association for the Conservation of Energy
London N1

This article first appeared in the 04 December 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Goodbye to the dirty mac image

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.