Thursday, 17th November, 2022

[Day 976]

Today was another early start but fortunately not quite as early as yesterday. Nonetheless, I was up with the lark and set off for a neighbouring hospital an hour before my appointment time, knowing that the rush hour could be terrible at this hour of departure. But my fears were a little groundless because I arrived at my appointment slot for a routine scan half an hour before my allocated slot. The ward clerk informed me that I would not be seen for quite some time so I went off in search of some reading matter as I had not picked up today’s newspaper on the way out. I found in the hospital’s coffee bar a bookcase of donated books. In the midst of the usual trashy novels, I did find a James Herriott ‘All Creatures Great and Small‘ which was a book full of episodes each only a few pages long and where you could dip into and out of it quite easily. This suited my purposes very well and eventually I was seen a little before my appointment time. I have had several of these scans before so I am well used to the routine by now and it seemed over and done with pretty quickly. So I shared a quick joke with the radiologists and was then on my way home, collecting my daily newspaper en route. When I got home and had a mini-breakfast, we learned that it was going to be the Autumn (ie. Financial) Statement at 11.30 so we did a few emails and things before it was time for the broadcast. So much of this had been leaked in dribs and drabs there there were hardly any announcements that were in, in fact,new. But the data analysts evidently looked at the published OBR press releases which, in its way, tells its own story despite what political spin the politicians manage to deploy. What was revealed was that ‘Household Disposable Incomes’ are heading for their biggest fall on record. Also it appears that the long-awaited analysis of the public finances by the OBR suggests it will be 2028 before incomes recover to their 2021-22 level. So the country as a whole is in for a couple of really hard years. To ‘sugar the pill’ a little, both pensioners and benefit recipients, should be getting increases next April which are raised in accordance with the current inflation rate which of the order of 10.1%. So we are in the position where some people might appear in money terms to be getting better off whilst in real terms inflation means that real incomes are falling for many. So in just eight weeks, the government has shifted from wanting to roll out the biggest tax cuts in 50 years to taking the country’s tax burden to its highest level since the Second World War. The point being made by some commentators is that the Budget appears to be more like a Labour budget than a Conservative one but the the £55 billion budget ‘hole’ is being paid for by tax increases (largely financed by allowances being held steady which actually increases the tax rate as inflation takes hold) and spending cuts. A bit of extra money (in money terms, not in real terms), is being found for both the education and the health budgets.

We had a fairly early lunch and then I walked down to the doctor’s surgery to play my part in the education of medical students. I was ‘interviewed’, if that is the right word, by a couple of young female medical students, both in their first year of their studies. They were meant to be taking a sort of social history but I think the intention is to get them used to real patients before they actually have to treat them. We chatted for more than half an hour about some of the things in which I been engaged since my own retirement and some of this entailed me going down memory lane about our pleasurable experiences, both working and on holiday, in various parts of Spain. The senior family doctor came in after about half an hour in order to bring our session to an end – I hope the students got out of it that which was intended by the session and I trusted that they would give a good report to their supervising doctor of our discussions. When I got home, I found the house deserted which worried me not a little before I realised that Meg was probably next door with a neighbour. So it proved to be, so I stayed next door chatting with our very kindly neighbour before returning Meg to our own home.

Returning to the Autumn Statement which is monopolising the news headlines this afernoon, there is a jaw-dropping change of tack. There are big immediate tax rises that many including Tory backbenchers will hate (£7.4bn worth in the next financial year, for example). But this is offset by an incredible £9.4bn of additional spending on energy help, school budgets, social care and the NHS. But at the same time an enormous ‘elephant trap’ is being placed before a potential, incoming Labour government. Many of the really savage cuts are scheduled for a date immediately after the next election so the global figures for cuts may help to reassure the money markets. But will an incoming Labour party feel obliged to honour these huge spending cuts or not – if not upheld, then a Labour party may be crippled by the financial markets before it even starts to put its own policies into effect.