Promises to spend what we do not have

Date: Friday 26th May 2017

Sir, Mike Doak (Herald, 20th May) attacks reductions in government spending, and urges people not to vote for me because these policies mean a “Victorian era” of “workhouses”.

I am grateful for his polite tone, but I’m afraid Mr. Doak is mistaken both about our spending plans, and about Victorian Britain.

First, the Conservative manifesto proposes not to reduce but to increase spending on schools and the NHS by four and eight billion pounds respectively.

These sums will not end all the pressures from rising costs, particularly in pensions and salaries; and we will continue to owe a huge debt to our excellent teachers and health professionals. But the increases will mean that no Cumbrian school will see a reduction as a result of the school funding formula.

Total Conservative government spending on health, long-term care, education, social security, tax credits and social housing now amounts to over £410 billion a year — or £6,000 a year for every man, woman and child in the country (this is not a hundred but a thousand times more than in Mr. Doak’s “Victorian era’).

We are spending 25 per cent. more on pensions, for example, than we were only seven years ago.

The fact that we and other governments have invested so much over so many years is one of the reasons why our lives are far better than those of our grandparents, let alone those of the Victorians. It is right and just to continue this investment.

Where we disagree, however, is with the idea that a government, already heavily in debt, can continue steeply to increase spending indefinitely.

We face many pressures that did not exist 40 years ago. Longer lives, for example, means an increasing proportion of people beyond working age are supported by fewer younger people. When Lloyd George began the pensions system there were about 20 working people to support every retired person, but there are now less than three.

Furthermore, in the NHS new technology, new drugs and new treatments have contributed to demand rising almost 10 per cent. a year.

All of this must be paid for. And this requires a growing economy, careful management of public money, a reasonable rate of taxation, and the courage to make difficult financial decisions.

I fully understand why Mr. Doak would like us to spend much more than we are already spending. But I would ask him not to be over-swayed by other party leaders who are promising to spend money we do not have. Yours etc,

RORY STEWART

(Conservativeparliamentary candidatefor Penrith and the Border)

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