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Editorial: Misleading NHS stats are par for the Tory course

A COUNTRY stood shocked this morning at news that Boris Johnson may not have been 100 per cent sincere about extra spending on the NHS.

So the £1.8 billion “cash injection” is actually money hospitals already have, but had been forbidden to spend: and worse, money “earned” by making spending cuts deeper than actually necessary to balance their books as part of the Provider Sustainability Fund, to reduce an overall deficit caused by years of Tory funding squeezes at a time when pressures on the health service are rising.

The exposure of this dishonest wheeze by the Nuffield Trust’s Sally Gainsbury (despite the heroic, if incoherent, attempts by Health Secretary Matt Hancock to split hairs over the rival meanings of “new cash” and “new spending”) will remind everyone of the infamous “£350 million a week for the NHS” promoted by Johnson, Michael Gove and others as a likely Brexit dividend: while Britain is indeed a net contributor to the EU budget, the wildly differing figures given by Johnson during the referendum campaign demonstrated his complete indifference to their accuracy. 

This was unsurprising, since nobody familiar with Johnson’s career would have believed that funding the NHS was a priority for him.

In any case the idea that reduced EU budget contributions would free up money for public spending rests on accepting the Tory lie that the savage spending cuts imposed in the name of “austerity” were driven by a genuine shortage of funds, rather than a political project to transfer wealth from working people to the rich via wage and pension reductions and the privatisation or degradation of public services.

Rather than lament the Prime Minister’s lack of honesty — after all, he follows a PM who as home secretary spun an absurd yarn about Britain being unable to deport criminals who owned cats — we should see this fiscal trickery for what it is, part of a broader strategy by the Tory government to cast a smokescreen over the very real damage it is doing to public services and communities.

As Gainsbury has previously detailed, such “impressive accountancy fiddles” abound in the NHS, a service politically sensitive enough that successive governments feel obliged to claim they are increasing spending on it when in fact they are doing the opposite.

But the same applies elsewhere: the Department for Education has been repeatedly rebuked by the UK Statistics Authority for misleading use of figures around education funding when schools are actually in crisis because of budget cuts, then work and pensions secretary Esther McVey had to apologise to Parliament last year for misleading it over universal credit and her forerunner Iain Duncan Smith was notorious for the lengths he went to to hide the grim consequences of the inhuman “fit for work” regime he imposed on disabled and chronically ill people.

Dishonesty is integral to the Conservative project because privatisation and cuts remain extremely unpopular. Public opinion overwhelmingly backs the core points of Labour’s programme: publicly owned transport and utilities, higher taxes on big business and the rich, significant investment in renewables and planned, sustainable development to meet the climate change challenge and provide secure, well-paid jobs.

In the face of this radical, popular agenda, constant obfuscation and misinformation are the Tories’ weapons of choice — as well as those of an Establishment media they can rely on to fight their corner and a sizeable fifth column in Labour’s own ranks.

The Tories have never been friends of our health service in its more than seven decades of existence as its universal free provision of care in accordance with need is anathema to market principles.

Only electing a Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn will see the NHS and all our public services restored to health.

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