Sick pay

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EVERYWHERE they go, the English seem to face higher costs, reduced services and threats of public sector “re-organisation”. This is particularly true in the NHS, where a rise in prescription charges, however minimal, underlines the fact that life here often feels like paying a bill that can never be cleared.

Life in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, liberated by devolution, is rather different. The introduction of free prescriptions in these territories, as well as the abolition of tuition fees north of the Border, means the divide is now driven not just by culture or national identity, but by finance. It feels unfair on the English and is yet another reason why the anachronistic Barnett Formula, first devised in 1978, needs to be revised again.

Prescription charges are an unpleasant symptom of the indebtedness which afflicts all of Britain. Being unwell is bad enough but having to pay for the chance to get better is sickening.

The sad result is that people with long-term health problems, particularly those on low incomes, will be tempted to scrimp and save on treatment. Once again, taxpayers are having to swallow a bitter pill.