Ed Miliband seized on the “glaring omission” of the NHS from the Budget as he claimed a Conservative government would oversee “colossal cuts” to spending on public services including hospitals.
He won Labour cheers for a spirited attack on the Coalition’s economic record in which he lambasted George Osborne for unveiling a “Budget which people won’t believe from a Government they don’t trust”.
Opposition MPs had feared that the strengthening recovery could undermine Labour’s pitch at the general election. But Mr Miliband argued that voters, whose salaries have fallen by £1,600 a year since 2010, would be sceptical of the Chancellor’s promises for the future because of his past record. In fiery Commons scenes, he accused the Tories of having a “secret plan” to slash spending and put up the rate of VAT if they win the election in May.
With Labour planning to put the health service at the heart of its election campaign, Mr Miliband described its absence from the Budget statement as “completely extraordinary”.
He said: “Where was that discussion of the health service and public services? I think it is time we looked at the reality of this Government’s spending plans.” He told Mr Osborne: “Because of the massive cuts you have announced, it means there will be colossal cuts planned in defence, in policing, in local government. But they won’t be able to deliver those cuts, so they will end up cutting the National Health Service. That is the secret plan they are not saying today.”
The Labour leader was backed by leading health experts. Ruth Thorlby, senior fellow in health policy at the Nuffield Trust think-tank, said: “This Budget does not give patients and NHS staff any certainty about wider funding plans up to 2020.”
Mr Miliband also claimed that social care spending would be devastated by a Tory administration, piling “unsustainable pressure” on hospitals faced with caring for vulnerable elderly people.
He hit back at jibes by David Cameron and Mr Osborne over the disclosure that he has two kitchens in his home in north London. “No one is going to take lectures on fairness from the Trust Fund Chancellor and Bullingdon Club Prime Minister,” he retorted.
The Labour leader went on to ridicule Mr Osborne’s claim to be a “friend of the North”, arguing that council budgets in the area had suffered 75 per cent bigger cuts than in the rest of the country.
He said more working families in the North-west had seen their tax credits cut than in any other region and 25 times more money had been spent on transport in London than in the North-east.
After quoting Labour council leaders criticising the Coalition’s record, he said: “For the interest of balance, I would have liked to have quoted a Conservative leader of a Northern city.
“But there aren’t any and with these two in charge, there never will be either.”
Mr Miliband said a Labour Budget would create a progressive tax system, reverse tax cuts for millionaires, introduce a mansion tax to fund the NHS and scrap the “vindictive and unfair” so-called bedroom tax. He told MPs that the party would reduce tuition fees to £6,000 a year, increase the minimum wage to £8 an hour and take tough action on climate change.
“We know the choice at the election – we have seen five years of falling living standards, young people paying the price of hard times, an NHS going backwards.”
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