Thursday 18 June 2009

Those who can afford it

I was slightly surprised that the Tories have decided to make the re-imposition of prescription charges in Wales one of their key planks of their Assembly policy. Even some of their own people seem to have been a bit taken aback by the proposal.

It's not entirely clear how much money this will really save. The cost of abolishing prescription charges was put at around £30 million, but the Tories' proposal wouldn't raise that much in reality. In the first place, they are planning to increase the range of exemptions, and in the second, to impose a lower charge – both aspects which would significantly impact on the total of any saving. And that's without deducting the costs of reintroducing the systems to collect and account for the monies involved.

I doubt, however, that they're really interested in the saving; this is more to do with their political message than with financial prudence. After all, much of what they actually say in the Assembly seems to be about demanding increasing expenditure rather than cuts.

The line about "those who can afford to pay should do so" has a certain resonance, there's no doubt about that. And given that around 93% of prescriptions were free anyway, and that that proportion would increase under the Tory proposals, it seems that less than 7% of the population would be affected adversely by their proposal. (Although since that's likely to be the wealthiest 7%, one does rather wonder whether this is likely to affect the section of the population most likely, historically, to vote Tory.)

But, as I've argued before, if the principle to be followed is that "those who can afford to pay should", why pick on (or stop at) prescription charges? Why not fees to see the GP? Charges for hospital treatment?

I can understand them wanting to draw a clear line between themselves and the Assembly government. And at a policy level, there's a refreshing honesty about them returning to their traditional position of attacking both universality and the health service. But what's their game plan for 2011? Do they really believe that they and the Lib Dems will ever have the numbers to form an alternative government in Cardiff?


Cibwr said...

Universality with any benefits to the rich being clawed back through the tax system has always been the way we have done things. In the 1970s we used to talk of the social wage, what citizens got back from the state, maybe that measure should be brought back?

On the Tories proposals, it may be more expensive to collect that the funds that come in, re-erecting the bureaucracy and exempting more seems counter intuitive. For example keeping the pensioners exemption when there are some very rich pensioners seems to go counter to what they are wanting to do.

Anonymous said...

The government is bankrupt running up enormous debts and by is whe Welsh Assembly. That's a good enought reason for those that can afford pay. In the future, I can guarantee you that this will be the case. Questions will also be asked as to what the government's role should actually be. We are now moving into a period in our history when life is going to get a lot harder I am afraid. The world labour force has more or less doubled in the last few years. This means that there will be more competition for finite resources which actually means that it will be the end of cheap energy and resources (water might be an exception for us Taffies if we can get control of it that is ;-) ) Basically, money is going to be a lot tighter....for governments....and individuals. We are now just experiencing the first warning shots. The credit cruch is merely one of it's symptoms.

John Dixon said...


I understand the argument entirely. But the question that I keep asking is this - what is it about rpescription charges which singles that out as something to be charged for?