Tories tell Chancellor to ditch NHS ringfencing

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George Osborne should consider removing ringfences protecting funding for areas including the NHS and overseas aid and scrap universal pensioner benefits, Tory MPs have said.

Ahead of the Budget on March 19, MPs from the backbench Tory Free Enterprise Group called for the Chancellor to take a radical approach to cutting public spending.

The group’s convenor, Kwasi Kwarteng, said there should be no “sacred cows” and warned that the UK could face a future burdened by national debt like Italy unless action was taken to reduce expenditure over the coming years.

David Cameron has committed to protect universal pensioner benefits such as the winter fuel allowance over the course of the Parliament and the coalition has put protective ringfences around the budgets for aid, NHS, schools and defence equipment.

But at a briefing in Westminster Mr Kwarteng said: “We are going to have to look at focusing welfare spending on those who need it most. I think that issues regarding the winter fuel allowance will have to be looked at, I suppose in the next Parliament, whichever party gets in.

“We are going to have to be quite courageous on that because otherwise the future awaiting for us is essentially that of Italy or a Mediterranean country where they have huge debts and they live with this burden of debt seemingly in perpetuity and that’s not something that we want to happen to Britain.”

He added: “The idea of ringfencing departments needs to be looked at. If you look at fiscal consolidation anywhere in the world, even in people’s own budgets – household budgets – if you are trying to reduce expenditure you will try to reduce expenditure, find savings, across the piece.”

He said he had heard of people using their winter fuel allowance to heat an indoor swimming pool.

The MP for Spelthorne added: “Right across the county I represent and the constituency I represent people are getting winter fuel allowance and I don’t think they need it and, in more candid moments, they themselves say ‘we don’t need this’.”

Fellow Free Enterprise Group MP Phillip Lee said the ageing “baby boomers” and the “less stoic” younger generation meant there was an “insatiable” demand for health spending.

Dr Lee also criticised the protection offered to the state pension and said he was sure that universal benefits would end during his political career, claiming that the younger generation was being “shafted”.

He said: “I think this Budget should be about young people not old people. I’m not overly enthusiastic about triple-locking pensions, for example.

“I think younger people ... we need to feel like we are getting something out of this deal, this unwritten social contract between British society and I think increasingly people under 45 are getting shafted.”