It can be easier for politicians to ignore the biggest issues facing the country, such as immigration and the NHS and leave them for future governments to deal with, rather than pledging to solve them themselves. Phillip Hammond demonstrated this when in the whole of his Autumn Statement he failed to mention the NHS once; but what are the consequences of ignoring such as key policy area?
The NHS is one of the most valuable public services that Britain has. However, as it is such a large organization there are several aspects a government must manage. The most important of which is ensuring that it is adequately funded. The problem the Conservatives have is that since 2010 the NHS has faced a huge financial crisis and seen a record fall in patient satisfaction. A pledge had been made during the 2015 election to inject an extra £10bn into the NHS but financial experts have reported that this has not happened. Hammond, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, clearly faces a major difficulty here as extra spending would defeat the overall pro-austerity belief of the Party. His solution was not to mention the issue at all in his 72-page brief.
One of the major consequences of this is that the public become unsatisfied with the service they receive. As mentioned from 2010-2015 there was a record fall in patient satisfaction with the NHS, in contrast, the highest ever record of satisfaction was under the Labour governments of 1997-2010. This can then lead to people seeking solutions elsewhere and turning to anti-establishment groups. For example, the 350 million extra to the NHS pledge by Vote Leave during the EU referendum tapped into this desperation to find a solution.
Now some may leap to the defense of Hammond. After all he has just taken over the position of Chancellor of the Exchequer and the past ignoring of the NHS is a unique situation, right? Wrong. This is not the first time a major policy area has been ignored. An example that recently has shown its consequences is migration. Since the 1950s both the Conservative and Labour Parties have ignored the issue of immigration. While in opposition both parties have attacked the other for their ideological stance on migration but in government did very little to change the situation.
The consequences of this are obvious. A lack of real debate on immigration has led to an anti-immigration hysteria; populist candidates such as Donald Trump and movements such as Brexit have successfully used this feeling against the establishment.
By ignoring the NHS, Hammond gives the more extreme forces on both the left and right the opportunity to offer solutions. Instead as many Labour MPs have pointed out, he should take a firm position on the NHS. A pragmatic approach of investment would help to solve the situation before low satisfaction levels turn into full blown anger. This lack of action so far by the Conservatives is concerning and only time will tell how the public will react.
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