This winter has pushed our national health service close to breaking point. Some areas are planning for a one-in-three reduction in bed provision. A quarter of all GP appointments now come after more than a week’s wait. Waiting times of more than four hours at A&E have quadrupled.
But while the Tories try to scapegoat hardworking NHS staff like doctors, it is their cuts and their mistaken priorities that are creating the crisis. Whilst Labour in office delivered real funding increases of 5.7 per cent annually, under the Tories NHS spending rises have fallen to 0.9 per cent per year – nothing like enough to meet rising demand from an ageing population. And because the Tories have slashed social care funding, they’ve left over one million of our more vulnerable elderly people without the care they need, putting yet more pressure on the NHS. Meanwhile, stealth privatisation has been pushed forwards, with spending by the NHS on private healthcare providers hitting £8bn a year.
The cuts are happening because the Tories are running an economy that’s been rigged for the rich. Under Conservative chancellors, since 2010, taxes on the wealthy and giant corporations have been slashed and slashed again. Already, the costs of Tory cuts to corporation tax and taxes paid by the super-rich come to £70bn over the next five years.
Now chancellor Phillip Hammond has hinted that he is prepared to turn the whole country into a tax haven, slashing corporation taxes to rock-bottom levels. On top of the existing tax cuts for the elite, that could mean a £120bn total giveaway by 2022 – more than the NHS spends in a year.
We couldn’t run a national health service worthy of the name in the bargain basement Britain the Tories are lining up. A majority people voted to Leave, and Labour respects that decision. But after the Leave campaign claimed that leaving the EU would mean more money for the NHS, not less, Phillip Hammond’s corporate smash-and-grab raid is surely not what anyone voted for.
It doesn’t have to be like this. Labour stands for a fundamentally different approach. We’ll stand with the British people against the elite. We live in a wealthy society – still the sixth richest on the planet. Yet whilst the super-rich and giant corporations have profited over the last few years, real wages for the majority have stagnated. According to the OECD, the share of our national income going to those who work is the lowest since before the second world war. Under the Tories, we’re living through what the governor of the Bank of England has called a “lost decade” for earnings and, with a Tory Brexit pushing up inflation, that squeeze is only going to get worse for many.
Labour will take action to turn our economy around for working people. We’ll bring in a real living wage, setting a minimum pay of at least £10 an hour. We’ll invest in those communities the government and the elites have abandoned, delivering the good, secure jobs people deserve. No part of our country should be left behind.
And for the NHS, we’ll make sure that it’s never again starved of the funding it needs, or forced into creeping privatisation. What the Tories have done to our health service is nothing short of a national disgrace. I’ve written to the Office for Budget Responsibility, who watch over government spending decisions, to see if they can start to make regular fair and objective assessments of what the NHS needs – and how government can meet that need. Labour will reverse the tax cuts for the big corporations and the super-rich to make sure the NHS and all our public services are on a secure footing, now and in the future.
The NHS is Labour’s proudest achievement. It’s only when we have an economy that works for ordinary people that we can keep it safe.
John McDonnell is shadow chancellor and MP for Hayes and Harlington.