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Labour has claimed that Conservatives will make £70 billion worth of spending cuts if re-elected in May – more than double the amount that David Cameron and George Osborne have claimed.
It is possible to dismiss this as electioneering hyperbole but, let’s face it, Cameron and Osborne don’t have a good record here; they promised to balance the books by May and instead the deficit is stubbornly sticking to £100 billion a year and they have doubled the national debt.
Labour has published analysis showing that the “unprecedented” and “extreme” scale of these spending cuts would pose a major risk to the National Health Service and/or vital public services such as policing, defence and social care.
The cuts would be so extreme that they would lead to the smallest police force since comparable records began, the smallest army since Cromwell and over a third of those older people who receive social care losing their entitlement to it.
Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls has claimed that George Osborne can only achieve his spending plans by pressing ahead with “unprecedented, extreme and close to impossible cuts”, by raising VAT yet again, or by cutting the National Health Service.
He said that, across the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), there have been only seven countries since 1945 where reductions on this scale have been attempted and for which we have available health spending data. Across these examples, public spending on health care has been cut – on average by one per cent of GDP.
If the average experience of these past fiscal consolidations were to be replicated in the UK over the coming four years of the next Parliament, then this would imply a real terms cut in NHS spending of over £10 billion by 2019-20.
“This is the implication of the choice that George Osborne made last December – and which he is now trying to brush under the carpet,” said Mr Balls.
“If he is to deliver on his Autumn Statement plans for a £23 billion overall budget surplus, as he says, through a Budget with no fiscal loosening, while promising unfunded tax cuts in the next parliament, then he is going to have to deliver these colossal cuts.
“The evidence is clear – countries which reduce public spending at the pace George Osborne intends have found they have had no alternative but to cut health spending.
“And after their broken pledge not to have a top-down re-organisation of the NHS in this Parliament, the British people know that the Tories have form when it comes to broken promises on the NHS.
“If David Cameron and George Osborne cannot spell out how their sums add up… the British people can only conclude – and would be right to conclude – that alternative plans do exist: to cut NHS spending and introduce charging.
“David Cameron and George Osborne must come clean or the British people will draw their own conclusions. And then, in May, they will make their choice.”
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