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Hospitals (Expenditure)

Volume 474: debated on Thursday 24 April 2008

Investment in the health service improves facilities and care, and it helps the local economy both directly, by providing employment, and through improving the health of the local work force.

I can confirm to my right hon. Friend that exactly that is happening in Blackpool. Is she aware that in recent years, £70 million of capital investment has been made in Blackpool Victoria hospital to create new cardiac care and haematology units and much more? Not only has that created new jobs in the economy for contractors and providers, and for 100 new nurses, but, of course, it has improved health care. Will she continue that investment and her good work?

I assure my hon. Friend that the Government intend to continue making significant increases; there is provision for a 4 per cent. real increase in health spending during this comprehensive spending review period. We recognise the benefits that health care investment can bring to the local economy. As she says, it means jobs for nurses, but it also means improvements in health. There has been a 17 per cent. drop in cancer deaths over the past few years as a result of much of the extra investment in the national health service, which has gone into providing new drugs and better treatment facilities.

Given that so much expenditure on hospitals in recent years has been through off-balance sheet private finance initiative and public-private partnership projects, is the Minister comfortable with the notion that, effectively, the next generation of taxpayers will have to pay for jam today in hospitals and other areas of public expenditure?

I am astonished to hear that the hon. Gentleman seems to be against new hospitals, PFI projects and the chance of investment in the future. It is often right to borrow to invest in the future and to deliver the kinds of services from which people will benefit for many generations to come. We are proud of that level of investment. I am sorry—I think his constituents will be sorry, too—if he is setting his face against the new and important capital investment in the NHS.

Welfare Tax Credits

I am so pleased that the hon. Gentleman could join us. He may not have heard me comment that the tax credit system is now working well for the 6 million families who benefit from tax credits, but I continue to look for opportunities to improve their experience. A revised version of the award notice, reflecting comments from the voluntary and community sectors, has, as he knows, been in use since April 2006.

I was here for the whole of the previous exchange, which I noted. I noted in particular that three quarters of people who are entitled to working tax credit do not claim it. I also know that nearly 1 million people were not given the amount that they should have received. Given that there are two four-page forms and that, as the Minister says, the target audience is the people who are most likely not to get the forms right, what will she do, rather than merely saying she is committed, which I do not doubt, to ensure that the system delivers, if it is meant to be the answer to all the Government’s new-found difficulties?

My apologies. I did not see that the hon. Gentleman was here for the earlier discussion. He certainly was not here at the outset of questions. He will have heard me refer to the fact that HMRC has—

I can talk about Liverpool if the hon. Gentleman wants me to. HMRC has already conducted a campaign aimed specifically at one group: families without children who should potentially be receiving working tax credit. I hope that the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) will accept that this is a particularly hard group to reach and to encourage to claim. It is for precisely that reason that HMRC has focused its effort. It is working with three different groups in which it believes that we could improve take-up: new mums, some ethnic minority groups and the group that I just mentioned. HMRC realises that there is more work to be done.

It is not just a matter of words; HMRC is making a real effort. It deserves to be commended for its work. It is too early yet to see the outcome of that increased effort, but there is no doubt that the effort is being made not only through the leaflet campaign to which I referred, but through targeted radio promoting the use of tax credits to those groups. We believe that they listen to local radio programmes more than other perhaps more conventional methods of advertising.

It became clear from the correspondence that I received about the abolition of the 10p tax rate that there was still a large amount of ignorance about who could claim and who qualified for working tax credit. That might help to explain why take-up is so low. Another explanation is that people with disabilities find it difficult to get more than the number of hours that must be worked in order to qualify for tax credit, on top of the complication of filling out the form. Will my right hon. Friend reconsider the qualifications for working tax credit for those with disabilities, to make it easier for them to qualify without having to work the 30 hours, which they find a high hurdle to overcome? That would also help to address the group that is losing out as a result of the abolition of the 10p tax rate.

My hon. Friend makes a valuable point, which I am happy to consider. I will closely examine the whole area as we go forward to ensure that all those who are entitled to receive working tax credit, whether or not they are impacted on by the questions around the 10p tax rate, can do so. Equally, I want to examine how we can help people in the way that my hon. Friend has suggested. I will consider whether it will be advisable to do so through the tax credit system or perhaps some other means.