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EDITIONS
 Thursday, 18 April, 2002, 16:54 GMT 17:54 UK
Blair seeks to sell NHS tax rises
Chancellor Gordon Brown and Prime Minister Tony Blair at a London hospital on Thursday
Blair and his ministers are going on the offensive
Prime Minister Tony Blair is seeking to convince the public of the need to raise taxes to boost spending on the National Health Service.

His efforts come as the Conservatives claim that a penny increase in National Insurance (NI) meant Labour had broken its election tax promises.

NHS shopping list
15,000 more doctors
35,000 more nurses
500 new primary care centres
40 new hospitals
Joining Chancellor Gordon Brown at a London hospital on Thursday to build support for the rises, Mr Blair said a better National Health Service could not "come for free".

Later in the House of Commons, Health Secretary Alan Milburn told MPs that the cash meant the NHS would get 40 new hospitals, 500 new primary care centres as well as 35,000 more nurses and 15,000 more doctors.

The Liberal Democrats support the NI rise - but the Conservatives say spending alone will not solve the problems of the health service and accuse ministers of ignoring real options for change.

Shadow health secretary Dr Liam Fox said: "We believe there does need to be reform but we are not willing to give a blank cheque to the government."

Getting results

The increase on both employer and employee NI contributions will go towards a 40bn rise in NHS spending over five years.

Mr Brown's visit to London's Chelsea and Westminster Hospital saw consultant Peta Longstaff accuse him of scoring an "own goal" by raising tax for low-paid doctors and nurses.

Iain Duncan Smith
Iain Duncan Smith: Labour offering no change, no difference
Sitting alongside Mr Blair, the chancellor replied: "The tax is done in a fair way. I would not have asked for a tax rise unless it was absolutely necessary."

Earlier, he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We have kept all our promises on tax. It is a complete falsehood to suggest that we have not."

The chancellor acknowledges the Budget is a "gamble politically" but he insisted he was taking no risks with the economy.

The campaign to promote the changes continued with a speech to doctors from Mr Blair, who warned of the danger of high expectations and said improvements would take time.

The prime minister later told his cabinet there was now a "national consensus" in favour of more health spending.

'Broken pledge'

Mr Milburn's NHS reform measures included new financial incentives for hospital performance, more managerial freedom for top performing hospitals and trusts and reform of social services care for the elderly.

Effect of tax increases
Average income (21,400): Up 3.70 a week
Above average earnings (32,100): Up 5.75 a week
Below average earnings (10,700): Up 1.65 a week
Dr Fox dimissed Mr Milburn's statement as "waffle".

Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said the chancellor had broken a Labour election pledge not to increase income tax, saying National Insurance is a tax on income.

Accusing ministers of ignoring the alternatives, he told Today: "Health services everywhere else in the world spend more on their citizens.

"The key question here is why do they get more out of what they spend."

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy welcomed the increased cash for the NHS but said "for many patients it has come anything up to five years too late".

Mr Kennedy told Today that Labour's admission that tax rises were needed changed the "contours of politics in a more honest and transparent fashion".


Public verdict

A pensioner, a doctor and student give BBC News Online their Budget verdicts.


In his Budget, Mr Brown said NHS funding would rise by an average of 7.4% in real terms each year, increasing from 65.4bn this year to 105.6bn in 2007/08.

It means UK health spending will increase from 6.7% of domestic economic output in 1997 to 9.4% by 2007/08, compared with a current European Union average of 8%.

Helping families was another target of the Budget and Home Secretary David Blunkett has given more details of how that money will be spent.

The National Family and Parenting Institute will receive a 2m grant over the next three years to look at the problems facing "dysfunctional families", Mr Blunkett announced.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Laura Trevelyan
"Mr Blair claims there is a natural consensus over spending more on health"
  Tony Blair, British Prime Minister
"There is a danger of expectations"
  Conservative leader Iain Duncan-Smith
"Waiting lists are still rising"
  The BBC's Vicki Young
"The Tories remain sceptical"
 VOTE RESULTS
The Budget: Has the chancellor got it right?

Yes
 43.20% 

No
 56.80% 

25637 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion


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See also:

18 Apr 02 | Health
18 Apr 02 | Politics
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