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17.03.16

Budget business rate cuts could harm public health spending

Public health spending could suffer further cuts as a result of the rise in business rates thresholds announced in yesterday’s Budget, the King’s Fund has warned.

Chancellor George Osborne told the House of Commons yesterday that the rates rise, which could result in a total loss of £6.7bn funding by 2021, will support small businesses.

But David Buck, senior fellow at the King’s Fund, warned that it could lead to a loss of a third of income for local authorities and hit the already beleaguered public health sector, which suffered £200m cuts in 2015-16.

He said: “It is essential that this does not result in further cuts to public health budgets in future.”

Buck also said that he welcomed the chancellor’s commitment to introduce a tax on sugary drinks and use the profits to fund school sports.

However, he warned that the strategy would not have an impact unless it was at a sufficient level to change behaviour, well designed and targeted, and part of a broader strategy on obesity.

Dr Mark Porter, chair of the British Medical Association, also said that the Budget, which included no additional funding for the NHS despite its £2.3bn deficit, fell short of healthcare needs.

He said: “It is disgraceful given the crisis facing the NHS that there was no promise of extra funding for a health service that is buckling under pressure from rising patient demand, falling resources and staff shortages.

“Hospitals and GP practices around the country are at breaking point and need urgent, extra investment to maintain even basic care for their patients.

“The political rhetoric does not match the reality on the ground of an NHS in crisis. The government’s funding promises have simply not materialised.”

Baroness Sheila Hollins, chair of the BMA board of science, also welcomed the sugar tax.

She said: “This is an important initiative that could help to begin to address the obesity crisis among young children, although the delay in introducing it for two years is disappointing.”

The government’s delayed strategy on childhood obesity is due to be published in the summer.

Baroness Hollins also said more needed to be done to safeguard public health, such as the implementation of minimum alcohol unit pricing.

 (Image c. PA Wire)

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