Theresa May accused of failing to tackle the growing crisis in NHS and social care, with a 'smoke and mirrors' manifesto

‘Rather than extra money, this essentially extends the funding already promised in the 2015’

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Thursday 18 May 2017 20:59 BST
Theresa May says the manifesto is a blueprint for ‘mainstream Britain’
Theresa May says the manifesto is a blueprint for ‘mainstream Britain’ (PA)

Theresa May has been accused of failing to tackle the growing crisis in the NHS and social care, with a “smoke and mirrors” manifesto that has left future funding in doubt.

Experts and campaign groups turned their fire on the Prime Minister as her promise to “get to grips with the great challenges of our time” if she returns to Downing Street drew scorn.

A flagship pledge to confront the social-care time bomb was attacked by the author of a previous review of policy for the Conservatives, who said older people would be “helpless” to plan their futures.

The Tories had also failed to offer hope to the 1.2 million people not receiving the care they need, with no commitment to bail out cash-starved local councils, the King’s Fund and Age UK warned.

And the British Medical Association (BMA) attacked a pledge to put an extra £8bn into the NHS, because it included money already promised. The Independent has learned this could be as much as £3bn.

“The extra £8bn touted in this manifesto for the NHS is smoke and mirrors,” said Dr Mark Porter, the chairman of the BMA council.

“Rather than extra money, this essentially extends the funding already promised in the 2015 spending review for another two years and falls far short of what is needed. The NHS is already at breaking point.”

The criticism came after Ms May – in Labour-held Halifax – published an 84-page manifesto that marked a stark attempt to put clear water between her and past Conservative leaders.

“We do not believe in untrammelled free markets. We reject the cult of selfish individualism,” it stated, reflecting the Prime Minister’s belief that government should intervene to improve people’s lives.

Rejecting laissez-faire Conservatism, Ms May said: “While it is never true that government has all the answers, government – put squarely at the service of ordinary working people – can and should be a force for good.”

But she denied a new philosophy, declaring: “There is no Mayism. There is good, solid Conservatism that puts the interests of the country and the interests of ordinary working people at the heart of everything we do in government.”

The manifesto was also criticised by the Confederation of British Industry after including another crackdown on immigration, which remained the Conservatives’ “Achilles heel”, the business group said.

“In a global race for talent and innovation, UK firms risk being left in the starting blocks because of a blunt approach to immigration,” said Carolyn Fairbairn, the CBI’s director general.

Conservative manifesto launch: In 90 seconds

The Prime Minister had also confirmed she would pursue a “hard and destructive Brexit”, the Open Britain campaign group said – with no mention of a previous pledge to deliver the “exact same benefits” outside the single market.

Entitled Forward, Together, the manifesto also pledged to:

* Tear up David Cameron’s 2015 “tax lock” pledge not to raise income tax, VAT or National Insurance – while promising only not to hike VAT.

* Scrap the “triple lock” protection for the state pension – requiring it to rise by the largest of 2.5 per cent, inflation or average earnings – which will be replaced by a looser double lock of earnings or inflation, after 2020.

* Maintain the commitment to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands – a target widely viewed as unachievable.

* Hike the amount levied on firms employing workers from non-EU countries, from £1,000 to £2,000 per worker per year.

* Scrap universal free school lunches for infant pupils in England, offering free breakfasts across the primary years instead.

* Bar thousands more Britons from bringing their foreign husbands and wives to the UK, by raising a controversial minimum income requirement

Earlier, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt had promised the NHS would get more money and the manifesto made clear funding-per-head will no longer fall in this financial year.

But the Tories were unable to say how much of the £8bn would be backloaded to the end of the next parliament in 2022 – and conceded it included £3bn already pledged in this decade.

The Tories hope to raise £2bn a year for social care, partly by means-testing winter fuel payments of up to £300, but could not say how quickly – or how much would flow to councils.

Jeremy Corbyn described the plan as a “tax on dementia” which would see people with long-lasting conditions run up vast bills. “Millions of pensioners are betrayed by Theresa May’s manifesto,” he said.

And the document confirmed the extraordinarily diminished importance of what was the crucial policy issue at the last two elections – the budget deficit.

The Tories said they would now “aim for a balanced budget by the middle of the next decade”, apparently downgrading it from a fiscal rule to an aspiration.

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