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1 October 2014updated 05 Oct 2023 8:51am

Why Cameron is ring-fencing the NHS

There are two areas of spending – health and education – that the public prioritise above all others.

By harry harry

The full version of this article is available on

Perhaps the most fundamental task of any government is to allocate the money it collects in taxes. What should it all be spent on?

Looking at data from the British Social Attitudes survey, now in its thirty-second year, gives us a clear answer: health and education.

These are the two areas of spending which have been selected far more than any other when the public have been asked “What should be the priority for extra government spending?” over the past three decades.

Roughly two-thirds of all respondents have always focused on these two areas. No other issues – policing, help for industry, housing, defence – has garnered even a third as much support as far as the data goes back (the mid-1980s).

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This is why Tony Blair ploughed money into health and education in the early 2000s, and why both party leaders are now committing to “saving” (Miliband) or “securing” (Cameron) the NHS. It is also why Andy Burnham was given such prominence at Labour’s conference, and David Cameron quickly replaced Andrew Lansley with Jeremy Hunt in 2012 when the former’s reforms were seen to threaten the institution.

The NHS will be at the centre of Cameron’s speech this morning. He is expected to say – if he remembers the line – that “you can only have a strong NHS if you have a strong economy”, twinning the public’s biggest spending concern with the issue on which elections are typically won.

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