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George Osborne ‘completely rejects’ idea that austerity weakened NHS

George Osborne ‘completely rejects’ idea that austerity weakened NHS
By Jess Hacker
20 June 2023

Former chancellor George Osborne has said he ‘completely rejects’ the claim that austerity policies weakened the UK’s health and social care capacity.

Mr Osborne, who is being questioned by the Covid inquiry today (20 June), went as far as to suggest Britain ‘would have been more exposed’ to the coronavirus pandemic were it nor for austerity measures introduced during his 2010-2016 tenure.

Leading the examining, Kate Backwell KC asked the former chancellor if he agreed that by the time the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the UK was suffering from ‘a depleted health and social care capacity and rising inequality’ as a direct consequence of austerity.

Mr Osborne responded that it was ‘not surprising’ that the 2008 economic crash has an impact on Britain’s level of poverty and unemployment, adding that that is ‘what happens’ during such economic shocks.

He said: ‘What flows from that is a whole set of things, and one of them is seriously impaired public finances which you then have to repair, and that is what we set about doing.

‘I would say if we had not done that, Britain would have been more exposed not just to future things like the Coronavirus pandemic, but indeed to the fiscal crisis, which very rapidly followed in countries across Europe, such as Spain, Italy, Greece, Ireland, Slovenia, all across the continent.’

Had David Cameron’s Government not ‘had a clear plan’ then the UK ‘would not have had the fiscal space to deal with the Coronavirus pandemic when it hit seven years later’ and it ‘might have had experienced the fiscal crisis’ following the initial phase of the pandemic, he added.

Mr Osborne also said: ‘Indeed, as Mr. Cameron pointed out yesterday, in many of those countries that did have those crises there were real cuts in health services and other public services that went far beyond what the UK experienced. In the case of the NHS, actually budgets went up in real terms.’

Earlier this month, a major report from the Trades Union Congress (TUC) found that austerity measures in the decade leading to 2020 left the NHS and UK as a whole ‘hugely unprepared’ for the Covid pandemic and its fallout.

In a recent blog for Healthcare Leader, Professor Sir Chris Ham, former chief executive of The King’s Fund, wrote that the NHS’ performance has deteriorated due to much lower funding increases, compared to those offered between 2000 and 2010.

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