Cameron Signals End to Protection for Britain’s Health Budget

Prime Minister David Cameron suggested he may use parts of the health budget to pay for social care, a sign that he is prepared to erode an area of spending he told voters he would protect.

The government would also consider using parts of the international aid budget to fund some defense projects because “one of the most fundamental parts of development is security,” Cameron told BBC Radio 4 today. Spending on education, health and international aid are “ringfenced” and not subject to the austerity program imposed by Cameron’s Conservative-led government since taking office in 2010.

“The key thing is how do we reform public spending and how government works so that we are not just slicing bits off different budgets -- how do we get health and social care to work better together?” Cameron said. “There is a lot of reform work that needs to be done in order to meet these spending targets with the minimum amount of disruption.”

Ministers are seeking ways to protect their departments from an additional 11.5 billion pounds ($18 billion) of budget cuts for the fiscal year that starts in April 2015. Diverting money out of protected budgets would ease pressure on those departments that have suffered the brunt of the cuts.

“Some of the health budget is used for social care, that’s a decision we made back in 2010,” Cameron said. “There’s enormous pressure on adult social care budgets and some of that is a health issue.”

Cameron reiterated that he is prepared to divert money from the international aid budget to ease pressure on defense. He had raised the possibility as far back as February.

‘Fundamental Parts’

“There are rules about what you can use the aid budget for,” Cameron said, even though “one of the most fundamental parts of development is security.”

As Cameron spoke, Business Secretary Vince Cable suggested on the Mumsnet website that he will be seeking money from the education budget to fund programs in his department.

“I am very clear that if the country is to progress, we will need a lot more investment in science and innovation, skills and higher education,” Cable said. “This approach will frame my approach to negotiating my department’s budget in relation to the deficit.”

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who leads the Liberal Democrats in the government, said yesterday that health, schools and international aid should remain protected from cuts in spending. His comments followed a Financial Times report that some Cabinet ministers were campaigning for an end to safeguards on the National Health Service budget.

Cable, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling and Communities Secretary Eric Pickles are among those campaigning for the change, the FT said.

Clegg also said he would not agree to further cuts to the welfare budget unless the Tories agree to cut universal winter-fuel payments for wealthy pensioners.

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