Rights at work: What’s new in the Spending Review?

04 October 2019

Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe, Unite national officer for health, crunches the numbers from September’s spending review and asks if they really add up for the NHS.

The new chancellor, Sajid Javid MP, declared ‘the end of austerity’ when he unveiled the government’s spending plans for 2020-21 in September. But was this some much-needed investment for our embattled public services or a cynical pre-election giveaway?

Headline figures included an increase in government expenditure of £13.8bn, a bump of 4.1%. This included an NHS funding increase of £6.2bn next year, most of which had already been announced last year as part of extra funding to commemorate the NHS’s 70th birthday, and more money for education and the public health grant budget.

Funding Promises

There was a boost to the Health Education England (HEE) budget, including an additional £150 million for continuing professional development (CPD), providing a £1000 central training budget over three years for each nurse, midwife and allied health professional. Additional funding was also found to deliver the government’s commitment to upgrade outdated facilities and equipment in 20 hospitals, which would share an £854m pot of new funding.

For Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, there should be Barnett formula consequential increases in spending, but it is hard to decipher what this will mean: of course, devolved countries have their own responsibilities for setting their spending priorities for health, social care and education services.

The real story

News of increased spending on public services is always welcome, but we need to look at this in the context of the last nine years. Spending in most government departments during this time has shrunk. NHS spending has only increased by 0.9% each year, neither keeping in line with inflation nor matching the funding required to stand still – a 4% increase per year, allowing for population changes and new technology and innovations. Furthermore, the chancellor’s announcement covered only a single financial year, rather than the three financial years that spending reviews usually cover.  

In reality, the extra funds for HEE’s CPD will only be in place towards the end of next year. But there are 100,000 vacancies in the NHS today, and we won’t see the benefits of this new funding for three to four years. This does not go far in addressing the fall in nursing degree applications since the removal of the bursary in 2017.  

Schools and local government expenditure is vital for many of the services community practitioners provide, but will these new funds be diverted to services that community nursery nurses, health visitors and school nurses provide through the public health grant or troubled families programme, or to increases in the minimum pupil amount?

Money well spent

Unite-CPHVA will continue to push for resources for you to carry out your jobs because we believe the value across society and in communities can be demonstrated by the impact on children and families and the consequences when these services are withdrawn. In effect, the new funding is a small step towards getting back what has been lost since 2010.

Further information

Read the government’s spending review at bit.ly/2019_spending_review

Please send your comments on the spending review to [email protected]