Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s ‘mini budget’ provided ‘next to nothing’ for public services and healthcare workers and failed to address existing health inequalities across the country, campaign and research organisations have said.
The summer fiscal plan, announced in Parliament yesterday, included new measures to incentivise public spending and prevent mass unemployment, following three months of lockdown and a severe economic downturn.
However, the statement has been criticised for avoiding details on how it would help the health sector recover from the huge impact of the pandemic.
UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: ‘While there’s much for young people, the energy sector and UK businesses to celebrate, there’s next to nothing for public services and the workers who’ve kept the country going through the last few difficult months.’
‘Proper investment’ in health services would ‘heal over the deep cracks in care and the NHS exposed by the pandemic,’ he said. It would help national and local public services employ more staff and ‘bring back support and security’ to communities, he added.
He further called for ‘a much-deserved’ early pay rise for health workers – money they could then ‘spend on local high streets’, helping to boost the economy.
The chancellor, during the speech, said the Government has so far approved £48 billion of additional expenditure on public services in response to Covid-19, since the start of the crisis.
Of that figure, £31.9 billion went to health services, including £15 billion for PPE, £10 billion for the Test, Trace, Contain and Enable programme and a £5.5 billion sum that helped pay for extra GP practice and pharmacy bank holiday opening, according to a Treasury document released as part of the announcement.
Health Foundation chief executive, Dr Jennifer Dixon, welcomed the Government’s response in protecting jobs and the economy, but said ‘significant extra investment and fundamental reform of social care’ cannot be put off any longer.
The chancellor’s current spending ‘lays bare the cost of Covid-19 for the health service’, with the PPE and Test and Trace programme, this year alone, costing the Government a fifth of what it would normally spend on healthcare.
‘Without a vaccine, Covid-19 will have a very large, long-term price tag for the NHS. The cash injection for social care is also positive but won’t be enough to address the policy failures that have left so many people in this sector vulnerable to the pandemic,’ she said.
The Government also needs to be ‘bolder’ by investing in other areas that influence people’s health and wellbeing, including social security, children’s services and education. This would ‘ensure the rhetoric of ‘levelling up’ becomes reality’, she added.
Institute for Public Policy Research North senior research fellow, Anna Round, called on the Government to use this opportunity to tackle health inequalities across the country through ‘large-scale and long-term investment’.
Last week, prime minister Boris Johnson promised to spend £5 billion on fast-tracked construction and infrastructure projects to kick start the economy and ‘level-up’ wealth and opportunity in Britain.
Ms Round added: ‘Building infrastructure is not enough to support all people across the UK. Our regional divides are among the worst in the developed world – on life expectancy and health, low pay and poverty, education and public services.
‘These deep inequalities have terrible economic and human consequences. They have undermined our social and community resilience, leaving the North [of England] dangerously unprepared for serious challenges like this pandemic.’