Tories forced to admit NHS spending has fallen after official warning

The Conservatives quietly update their website after the UK Statistics Authority orders a correction.

Last week, the Conservatives were rebuked by the chair of the UK Statistics Authority, Andrew Dilnot, for falsely claiming to have increased real-terms spending on the NHS "in each of the last two years". In response to a complaint from the shadow health secretary, Andy Burnham, Dilnot stated that, contrary to recent Conservative statements, "expenditure on the NHS in real terms was lower in 2011-12 than it was in 2009-10". The most recent Treasury figures show that while real-terms spending rose by 0.09 per cent between 2010-11 and 2011-12, it fell by 0.84 per cent between 2009-10 and 2010-11. A significant cut followed by a paltry increase means that spending in 2011-12 (£104.3bn) was lower in real-terms (and in cash-terms) than in 2009-10 (£105.1bn).

Nonetheless, at PMQs the following day, David Cameron refused to concede that there had been any inaccuracy. "It is a very simple point. The spending figures for 2010 were set by the last Labour government. Those are the figures we inherited. All the right hon. Gentleman [Ed Miliband] is doing is proving that his government were planning for an NHS cut," he said.

But while Cameron publicly insists that nothing has changed, the Tories have quietly updated their website to reflect Dilnot's letter. Having previously claimed to have "increased the NHS budget in real terms in each of the last two years", the health section of the site now states, "we have increased NHS spending in real terms since 2010-11 and will continue doing so."



Burnham is set to ask the Speaker to bring Jeremy Hunt to the Commons on Wednesday to correct the record in person.

David Cameron makes a speech to doctors and nurses on NHS reform in 2011. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.