MAY’S £20BN NHS GAM­BLE

PM pledges stun­ning £380m a week for ail­ing Health Ser­vice She bets pub­lic will be will­ing to face tax hikes for bet­ter care

The Mail on Sunday - - Front Page - By Si­mon Wal­ters and Glen Owen

THERESA MAY to­day an­nounces an ex­tra­or­di­nary £20 bil­lion-a-year boost for the Na­tional Health Ser­vice.

In her bold­est move since call­ing the last Gen­eral Elec­tion, the Prime Min­is­ter vows to beat Boris John­son’s in­fa­mous pledge to in­vest a £350 mil­lion-a-week ‘Brexit div­i­dend’ in the Health Ser­vice.

The an­nounce­ment, timed to co­in­cide with the 70th an­niver­sary of the NHS next month, comes as Mrs May faces in­tense pres­sure on her lead­er­ship ahead of a piv­otal Com­mons vote on Wed­nes­day. Her al­lies hope the four per cent rise will give her vi­tal breath­ing space as Tory whips strug­gle to con­tain a party re­bel­lion which could force the Gov­ern­ment to give the Com­mons a veto over the Brexit process and weaken Mrs May’s au­thor­ity.

In an ar­ti­cle for to­day’s Mail on Sun­day, the Prime Min­is­ter prom­ises an ex­tra £20 bil­lion in real terms by the 2023-24 fi­nan­cial year – or £384 mil­lion a week. Dur­ing the 2016 ref­er­en­dum, the Vote Leave bus used by Mr John­son and his fel­low Brex­i­teers de­clared: ‘We send

the EU £350 mil­lion a week, let’s fund our NHS in­stead.’ The con­tentious claim is be­lieved to have been a sig­nif­i­cant factor in the cam­paign’s vic­tory.

Last night a se­nior Tory source said t he spend­ing pledge showed Mrs May was sig­nalling the end of the Gov­ern­ment’s decade-long aus­ter­ity drive. But she risks an­ger­ing many on the Right of her party by ad­mit­ting that vot­ers will also need ‘to con­trib­ute more’ to the NHS.

Out of the ex­tra £20 bil­lion a year for the NHS, no more than £9 bil­lion is ex­pected to come from money we will no longer pay to Brus­sels. The re­main­ing £11 bil­lion, which will have to come from tax rises or ex­tra bor­row­ing, is the equiv­a­lent of adding about 3p on the ba­sic rate of in­come tax.

I n her ar­ti­cle, Mrs May de­clares that ‘noth­ing mat­ters more to the Bri­tish peo­ple than our NHS’ and that she is ‘de­ter- mined to take ac­tion to se­cure it for gen­er­a­tions to come’.

She also em­pha­sises her own ex­pe­ri­ence of the NHS after the shock of be­ing di­ag­nosed with type 1 di­a­betes in 2012.

She writes: ‘In that mo­ment, the NHS was there for me, just as it has been for mil­lions of oth­ers over seven decades.

‘It helps me ev­ery step of the way. With the NHS on my side, I can man­age my con­di­tion, live a nor­mal life and get on with my job.’

Mrs May said that by 2023 in­fla­tion and growth are fore­cast to take the cash boost to more than £600 mil­lion ex­tra a week. It is the first sig­nif­i­cant spend­ing boost by the Gov­ern­ment since the 2008 fi­nan­cial cri­sis led to bud­get cuts and the freeze in pub­lic sec­tor wages.

Ear­lier this year Chan­cel­lor Philip Ham­mond de­clared there was ‘light at the end of the tun­nel’ on pub­lic fi­nances.

Rais­ing taxes to fund health­care is a sen­si­tive is­sue for Mrs May, whose 2017 Elec­tion cam­paign started to im­plode after the Tory man­i­festo pro­posed a ‘de­men­tia tax’ to meet so­cial care costs.

Mrs May hopes to as­suage criticism from spend­ing hawks by also an­nounc­ing that she is forc­ing NHS chiefs to draw up a ten- year ‘ ef­fi­ciency plan’ de­signed to pre­vent waste.

And a No 10 source in­sisted last night that ‘the purse strings are not about to be re­laxed’ for other de­part­ments, adding: ‘The NHS is a spe­cial case.’

In her ar­ti­cle, Mrs May – pay­ing rare trib­ute to for­mer Chan­cel­lor Ge­orge Os­borne – says: ‘This plan is af­ford­able be­cause of the dif­fi­cult but nec­es­sary de­ci­sions taken by Ge­orge Os­borne and Philip Ham­mond to get the coun­try’s fi­nances back in order – and the sac­ri­fices made by the Bri­tish peo­ple.’

No 10 de­nies that any deal has been cut with Mr John­son and his fel­low Brex­i­teers in re­turn for them to be more ‘flex­i­ble’ in Cabi­net dis­cus­sions over Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions with Brus­sels, such as the UK agree­ing to re­main aligned with cer­tain rules after we leave the EU.

The NHS an­nounce­ment also rep­re­sents a po­lit­i­cal tri­umph for am­bi­tious Health Sec­re­tary Jeremy Hunt, who has been push­ing for greater fund­ing, and a blow for Mr Ham­mond, who has pri­vately ob­jected on the grounds that it could jeop­ar­dise the Tories’ rep­u­ta­tion for fi­nan­cial pru­dence.

The ex­tra money will be used to re­cruit ex­tra doc­tors and nurses, greater in­vest­ment in can­cer care and sup­port for men­tal health ser­vices.

It will also be seen as an at­tempt by Mrs May to steal po­lit­i­cal ground from Labour.

No 10’s think­ing has been in­flu­enced by polls show­ing that nearly 90 per cent of adults be­lieve the NHS faces a se­vere fi­nan­cial cri­sis, and more than six in ten peo­ple back tax hikes to avert it.

The cash in­jec­tion would boost the NHS bud­get from £116 bil­lion a year cur­rently to the post-in­fla­tion equiv­a­lent of £136 bil­lion by 2023.

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