PMQs after PMQs, Jeremy Corbyn stands up and accuses of the government of spending cuts, or underfunding in our; NHS, schools, social services, and so on. Yet each time the Prime Minister Theresa May stands up and proudly boasts of the Conservative record of increasing funding for all these sectors. The confident performances have gone down well with the pundits, and with the wider public to some extent, but what is Theresa May’s winning formula? Is she correct when she states these vital public services have never had it better? Let’s go through it a step at a time.
The first tool in Theresa’s belt is, sleight of hand; the Prime Minister is often caught saying the government is putting *Insert seemingly large figure* into tackling whatever problem it is Jeremy Corbyn is challenging her on. Let’s look at an example…
On the NHS, Theresa May is boastful that this Conservative government is spending more than ever on healthcare. In a literal sense, disregarding Social Care, Theresa May is correct in her statement, real terms spending for Health Care has increased by 1.3% per year between 2010-2016. However, this is ‘substantially below average growth of 4.1% per year between 1955-2016’, the lowest growth in spending since records began (Source: IFS). This is important because standard inflation, by which real terms increases are dependent on, is not the same as health inflation. Due to a growing and ageing population, and the increasing cost of new treatments, the health service requires far more than a 1.3% increase per year to sustain current services.
The effects of NHS underfunding have been widely reported in the past, this government has continuously failed to meet targets for; A&E, cancer care, and operations. The latest headline exposure revealed 100,000 unfilled vacancies within the NHS, this had led to dangerously unsafe hospital rotas, in September a whistle-blower revealed 436 patients were being cared for by just two Junior Doctors. In monetary terms, almost every NHS trust in England has fallen into deep deficits since the Conservative government came into power (figure 1).
On NHS funding, you are being misled.
The second tool in Theresa’s belt has been manufactured by the Conservative’s longer-term party policy. The break-it-fix-it strategy, which allows the Conservative government to systemically dismantle a service, but appear as if they’re fixing it at the same time. The trick here is to cut fast and deep, then when the effects of funding cuts become apparent, pledge a relatively small cash injection to appear as if you are fixing the issue of the day.
Social Care is the poster-child for this strategy. Since coming to power the Conservatives have cut £6bn from Social Care services, which has devastated the ability of local councils to provide effective and compassionate care for the most vulnerable in society. The knock-on effect has led to costly bed-blocking in hospitals, where elderly patients should be taken & cared for at home, but few services are now in place to care for them. When questioned about Social Care during the 20/12/17 PMQs, Theresa May responded claiming the Conservatives had acted on Social Care by pledging £2bn more over the next three years.
Watch Corbyn’s fiery response to this governments lack of action on Social Care
What’s clear is that £6bn cut, £2bn put in, still means a massive £4bn has been cut from the Social Care budget. There we have it, Theresa May can brag about protecting Social Care, whilst simultaneously destroying it.
Another example of this has been Police funding. Our officers have an important job protecting our streets from crime, and aiding the prevention of terrorism. Yet, Theresa May in her time as Home Secretary & now Prime Minister, has been at the forefront of dismantling our Police services. Questioned on policing before this year’s snap election, Theresa May claimed the Conservatives had increased the number of armed police officers, and provided extra funding for an additional 1,900 MI5/MI6/GCHQ officers. Furthermore, Theresa claimed the Police forces are well resourced, and funding would be protected. On the surface this is a strong stance on policing and counter-terrorism, however during her time as Home Secretary, 46,700 Police numbers had been cut, with over 20,000 of them being front-line Police officers.
The funding the Conservatives vowed was protected, was secretly cut by a further £413million, at a time when crime is rising & terrorism is back on our streets. Listen to this former Met officer Peter Kirkham call out the government, and how Theresa May accused the Police of ‘scaremongering’ & ‘crying wolf’.
Finally, if nothing else will cut it, just Lie. Lying, when done confidently, can skew public perception and opinion. With no intention to deal with some of the big issues facing our society, Theresa May & other Conservative speakers are often caught out-right lying.
During the PMQs on the 13/12/17 the Prime Minister claimed, “statutory homelessness peaked under the Labour government and is down by over 50 per cent since then.” The UK Statistics Authority has confirmed the concerns raised over this brazen lie. Under the previous Labour government statutory homelessness peaked in 2003, but fell significantly before the Conservatives gained power. Since then, statutory homelessness has climbed since the Conservatives have been in office, rough sleeping has more than doubled in the same period.
On policing Theresa May claimed Police Officers had seen on average a 32% pay increase since the Conservatives have been in power. The public sector pay cap has been 1% for several years now, Theresa May factors in promotions & career progression into her calculations. Calum Macleod, vice chair of the Police Federation: “The government stating that police officers have had a 32% pay rise since 2010 is a joke – and is in fact a downright lie,”.
Perhaps this last example blurs the line between Theresa’s first tool, sleight of hand, but at the end of the day it’s also a lie, in real-terms. On education funding for schools, the Conservatives have originally claimed funding would be protected, but went on to make a song and dance about an extra £4bn for schools in their snap election manifesto. However, that promise was made in cash terms, and already promised previously. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has done the math behind the Conservative pledge on school funding, unfortunately it’s a 6.9% real terms cut per pupil funding from 2015-16 and 2021-22, the largest cut made to per pupil funding since the 1980s.
So, in summary, you can’t trust anything this government claims. If the figures sound too good to be true, you can be sure it is a real-terms cut. If it sounds as if the Conservatives are pledging huge sums of new money into a vital public service, it will pale in comparison to recent cuts they’ve made. If it sounds out of place (32% Police pay increase?), they’re probably lying.