Comment Writer George Shealy dissects the Conservative Party manifesto and argues their promises to end austerity are little more than empty promises
Apart from being whacked over the head numerous times with ‘Let’s Get Brexit Done’ and the advertisement of a ‘pre-cooked and ready to go’ Brexit plan that sounds more like an unsavoury ready meal than anything, there is one sound bite that should really interest us voters. Johnson and co have made a special effort to brand their potential new government as a ‘one-nation government’, and one that will ‘end austerity’. However, how does this pledge materialise in their manifesto, and how do these promises add up? The true end to austerity is not the increase of spending, but the reversal of the devastation that it has caused.
The tackling of austerity is something that belongs beside the most important issues in this election. The last ten years has seen our country’s services completely debilitated, and as a result, the livelihood of working-class people who rely on them most. It is no secret that the NHS is on its knees. Nurses claim to be working 13-hour shifts, whilst there are an estimated 40,000 vacancies listed by the Royal College of Nurses. Since last year, ‘experts’ have been warning that the NHS is in a state of emergency with a deficit of £4.3 billion. Our health staff are overworked and underpaid, whilst patients are suffering without getting the help they need. This is a disgusting infringement on the rights of our people. It is that simple.
Away from the NHS, schools are another famous victim of austerity. John Harris’ article for the Guardian in April provided a case study on the negative impacts of austerity on a school in Walsall. According to the head teacher there, music lessons have had to be ‘hacked back’, teachers give away their time for free to keep extracurricular activities going, and speech and language support has been completely scrapped altogether. This is all in the name to make ends meet due to a £200,000 deficit that hangs over the school’s head. There are thousands of schools in this position across the country. If it wasn’t clear already that we’re not doing enough for our children, it is reported that since the Welfare Reform Act of 2012, 600,000 more children are in child poverty, whilst the number using food banks has tripled.
So, what has the PM promised? Firstly, this 2019 Tory manifesto is the first in 10 years that has not included cuts to public spending. In fact, Johnson’s government will increase day-to-day spending by £3 billion. But before voters get caught up in the spin of an apparently ‘radical’ Tory manifesto, there needs to be a reality check – and trust me it is sobering. The analysis of the Tory manifesto reveals that the PM’s party is still conservative by name, conservative by nature. The Guardian has called the spending ‘modest’, whilst other outlets like the New Statesman and The Spectator have also picked up on this anti-climax to promises of generous spending. Of course, ending austerity as a policy is all well and good, but the real solution is to actually correct the damage caused by the policy, and it seems from the off that this moderate spending spree will not do enough.
How do the more specific policies aim to aid our services? For the NHS, Johnson has promised 40 new hospitals, 50,000 more nurses, and 50 million more GP services. This sounds promising, until cracks begin to appear. Fullfact revealed that the 50,000 nurses promised will only increase the number of nurses for every 1,000 patients by .76 (4.98 to 5.74), meaning our nurses are still going to be stretched and overworked, and therefore unable to deliver the required service. This week it was also reported that 20,000 of the promised 50,000 new nurses will actually be existing nurses (referred to as ‘retained’). Nicky Morgan revealed on This Morning, rather sheepishly, that ‘retained’ nurses are those who would leave the NHS but are staying. Johnson nearly got away with another lie this week as he told voters in Telford that it’s A&E services will not be closed, only to be contradicted by the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock who revealed after the launch that the services will indeed be closing. Again, the Conservatives have lied on their commitment to public services. If the health policies couldn’t seem to be any more tenuous, it has also been uncovered by The Health Foundation that the spending promised on Johnson’s 40 new hospitals is only going to be used to upgrade six hospitals. To top it off, the spending on the NHS will remain 15% lower than 2010 levels if Johnson continues as PM. Clearly, the Conservatives are going to keep the NHS on its knees, despite their protests to do otherwise.
The Conservatives fair marginally better on their education policy. Johnson has promised to increase spending in schools by £4.3 billion by 2022-23, whilst spending per pupil in primary schools has risen to £4,000. This is an increase that will nearly reverse the cuts made in 2009. However, the key word here is nearly. By 2023, spending on pupils will still be as low as it was in 2010. This is not good enough, as schools will continue to fail to provide for the rising demands made on the system, no thanks to the Tories. The childcare that has accompanied promises to help primary school pupils is equally unsatisfactory. Analysis from the Lib Dems on these ‘insulting’ childcare provisions reveal that only 5.3% of primary schoolers will feel the benefit of this spending. Furthermore, closer analysis reveals that if this money was evenly distributed, it would only amount to £1 per pupil. Again, the Conservatives new spending does not go far enough.
Overall, it seems that the Tory promise to end austerity and its effects is more verbal than it is practical. Beyond the lies and spin on Conservative policy, we can predict that the damage caused by austerity will not be reversed, nor will our services be rescued from the precarious situation they currently struggle in.