The end of austerity? ‘I would celebrate that’, says Peterborough MP after extra £20 billion for NHS

Fiona Onasanya column
Fiona Onasanya column
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Like many of my colleagues, I was astonished when the Prime Minister announced there would be an extra £20 billion allocated to the NHS. She stated that this is a “birthday present” for this vital service, which turns 70 this year.

She stated that this is a “birthday present” for this vital service, which turns 70 this year.

It is a peculiar turn of events: I recall during the 2017 General Election, when the British public (specifically, a nurse who needed a pay raise) was told that there was no such thing as a “Magic Money Tree”.

However, the £1.5 billion allocated to Northern Ireland to secure the support of the Democratic Unionists, more money for strikes on Syria, and now a £20 billion cash injection for the NHS, does make one wonder: did they somehow discover a Magic Money Tree growing in the back gardens of Downing Street, with red £50 notes glistening in the sunlight as they unfurl like leaves in spring?

If instead, there has been a realisation that austerity has been a calamity for this nation, then I for one will celebrate the government’s Damascene conversion, late though it is.

This change of heart, however, was preceded by a number of inevitable facts. We have found that we can’t cut the police and expect them to solve more crimes. We can’t cut education spending and hope to raise the attainment levels of our children. We can’t fail to spend on the NHS to keep up with demographic changes and yet hope that more patients will be treated. The mathematics was always this straightforward. If the government had been listening to those on the front line, the message would have been even more emphatic.

As part of my role, I meet many people working in our vital public services: nurses, doctors, policemen, firemen. I’ve always been impressed by their devotion to their work. They transform lives in helping others: but this is not to say that this is a substitute for a lack of sustainable wages and resources. Public sector workers feel, by and large, that this government simply doesn’t want to know. For the past eight years, they’ve faced little but steadily increasing pressure to conform to new administrative structures, tougher targets, and tightened belts. To make matters worse, the “hostile” immigration policies pursued by this government have discouraged many who would come from abroad to help, i.e. nurses and doctors. If the Prime Minister has genuinely seen the light, then this is cause for celebration. There is no Brexit dividend to pay for this: for example, new, expensive bureaucracies are in place to facilitate the transition. She will have to grasp the nettle of combatting tax avoidance. Higher earners will have to pay more towards our common welfare. If she has understood all this and decided to act accordingly, then it’s truly a turnabout to cherish.