Ed Miliband promises £2.5bn funding boost 'to save NHS'

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Media caption,
Ed Miliband: "It's time to care about our NHS"

Ed Miliband has said a future Labour government would pay for 36,000 more doctors, nurses and midwives, partly funded by a tax on tobacco firms.

The Labour leader told his conference the £2.5bn funding pledge to "save and transform" the NHS by 2020 would be the centrepiece of his plan for government.

It will be paid for by a "mansion tax", a crackdown on tax avoidance and a levy on tobacco firms' market share.

Labour's mission, he said, was to "restore people's faith in the future".

In his last conference address before next year's election, the Labour leader set out a 10-year plan to build a "world-class Britain" and said the next eight months would be "an interview with the British public for one of the most important jobs in the country".

In the 65-minute speech, delivered without notes, he pledged to:

  • Focus on six national goals - including boosting pay, apprenticeships and housing - by 2025
  • Raise £1.2bn through a tax on houses worth more than £2m
  • Lift the minimum wage by £1.50 an hour by 2020
  • Give 16 and 17-year-olds the vote
  • Urge a UN Security Council resolution to build "international support" for military action against Islamic State

Mr Miliband said he would boost NHS funding without extra borrowing or asking working people to pay extra tax. The extra resources, he said, would provide for 20,000 more nurses, 8,000 more GPs, 5,000 more careworkers and 3,000 more midwives by 2020.

This, he argued, would make it easier for people to get GP appointments, improve the safety of hospital patients and raise standards of home care.

Mood in the hall - Political reporter Brian Wheeler

Image source, Reuters

The party faithful went away happy, as they always do when their leader speaks. But they were not as ecstatic as some conference audiences I have seen at the final rally before a general election.

"That was the speech of a future prime minister," said one delegate from Wales. "Now he has to deliver."

"It was good, but why can't we have the pay rise for low paid workers now? Why wait five years?," added his friend.

There were a few drooping eyelids in the hall during the first section of the speech, as Mr Miliband told anecdotes about people he had met - Gareth, Josephine, Rosie, etc - but the crowd woke up when he began attacking David Cameron and promising more jobs for the NHS.

By my count, the Labour leader got a total of 70 rounds of applause, 15 laughs, 13 cheers and five standing ovations - two in response to his pledges on the NHS, one for a crack about Mr Cameron pandering to UKIP and, perhaps the biggest reaction of all, when he attacked the Daily Mail for saying his father "hated Britain". Of course he also got one at the end of his 65 minute address.

As well as the proceeds of the mansion tax, the "time to care" fund will be paid for by a crackdown on tax loopholes used by hedge funds and other City firm, expected to raise £1.1bn and requiring tobacco firms to contribute to the cost of treating smoking-related illnesses.

Mr Miliband said the £150m levy, which mirrors a measure introduced in the US in 2009, would target tobacco firms which make "soaring profits on the back of ill health".

He said the NHS was "creaking" under David Cameron who, he said, "was not fit" to be prime minister.

"The NHS is sliding backwards under this government," he said. "They are privatising and fragmenting it. Just think what it would look like after five more years of this government. It is not safe in their hands. We built the NHS, We saved the NHS... and we will transform the NHS for the future."

The Labour leader said David Cameron had no answer to the fall in living standards since 2010. Deriding the coalition government as "not just mediocre but one of the worst ever", he said their time in office had brought people "five years of sacrifice but zero years of success".

Image source, PA
Image caption,
Ed Miliband arrives at the conference hall with wife Justine
Image caption,
Ed Miliband walked across the stage while delivering his speech
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Labour's front bench team enjoy the early parts of the speech
Image caption,
The Manchester conference hall is packed for the speech

Mr Miliband said the fact 45% of voters in Scotland had voted for independence showed the country "was not in good health".

"So many people have lost faith in the future," he said. "I've met young people who should have the brightest of futures who tell me their generation is falling into a black hole. People in England who think all politics is rubbish.

National goals

"People in Scotland who wanted to leave our country because they felt they had nothing left to lose. Our task is to restore people's faith in the future."

Among Labour's six goals by 2025 are plans to boost the take-up of apprenticeships until they match the numbers going to university, to halve number of low-paid workers and to create a million new "green" technology jobs.

He also vowed to double the number of people getting on the property ladder by pledging to build 200,000 new homes a year by 2020.

It later emerged that Mr Miliband had not delivered planned parts of the speech in which he was to promise to "deal with our nation's debts" and another on immigration.

The Labour leader's political rivals attacked the speech, Chancellor George Osborne saying it was "extraordinary" there had not been a single mention of the deficit.

"If you can't fix the economy you can't fund the NHS," he tweeted.

And Lib Dem MP Tim Farron said the speech, which was littered with first name references to ordinary people Mr Miliband had met, was not that of "a prime minister in waiting".

Analysis by political editor Nick Robinson

Today marked the start of an eight month job application. So said Ed Miliband. The role to be filled - prime minister. The decision to be taken - by you next May.

The big theme of his speech was not the threats the country faces - he didn't mention the deficit once and he didn't say whether he would back RAF strikes on IS forces in Iraq or Syria - but his repeated insistence that together the country could build a better future

It was a speech built on a single word - together - repeated over 50 times and a single theme - the claim that Labour, unlike the Tories, would not allow people to struggle on their own.

The TUC praised the "ambitious but genuinely believable agenda" but tobacco firms reacted angrily to the proposed levy, saying they already paid more than £12bn in tax every year.

"The idea of a targeting a sole, legitimate business sector with an additional tax is totally unwarranted and unjust and should be dismissed immediately," Imperial Tobacco said in a statement.

The British Chambers of Commerce said there had been a lack of focus on growth and business in Mr Miliband's speech, which largely steered clear of the economy.

The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors said a mansion tax would catch family homes and depress the property market in London, which Land Registry figures suggest accounted for nearly 90% of all sales of more than £2m last year.