Ed Miliband promises £2.5bn funding boost to save NHS: Labour leader unveils his vision for 'world-class country'
In his final conference speech before the general election, Labour party leader Ed Miliband unveiled his vision for building a "world-class" country without resorting to "big spending".
The Labour leader also put the NHS at the heart of his general election pitch, promising to boost funding by squeezing mansion owners, tax dodgers and tobacco firms. Mr Miliband set out a bold 10-year plan for creating a "world-class" country that functioned for ordinary working people.
Stressing the party's commitment to fiscal discipline, Mr Miliband insisted he would not borrow a penny more than the coalition to deliver fundamental change. He made clear that funds would be raised in other ways and where the Tories stood for "wealth and privilege", Labour would prioritise "hard work and fair pay".
But he was mocked by political opponents after failing to deliver the parts of his intended speech – given from notes without a prompter – about addressing the deficit and immigration.
Under the proposals set out by the Opposition leader, £2.5bn a year will be poured into a Time To Care fund to tackle shortages that have left wards, surgeries and care homes dangerously understaffed.
Its first priority will be the recruitment of 20,000 nurses, 8,000 GPs, 3,000 midwives and 5,000 care workers, as part of a wider shift to a more integrated health and care system proposed by the party. The money will come from a new annual "mansion tax" on £2 million-plus homes, a US-style levy on cigarette manufacturers and a promise to find ways to close tax loopholes that the party says cost the Treasury £1.1bn.
"We won't borrow a penny to do it," Mr Miliband told the gathering in Manchester, where shadow chancellor Ed Balls had already warned activists that austerity would continue under Labour – including a fresh squeeze on child benefit. "And we won't do it by raising taxes on everyday working people."
Instead, those paying for the improvement would be tax-dodging hedge funds, tobacco giants "who make soaring profit on the back of ill-health" and those wealthy enough to own large homes, he said. "The NHS is sliding backwards under this Government. They are privatising and fragmenting it. Just think what it would look like after five more years."
Mr Miliband stressed the party's commitment to fiscal discipline, insisting a "world-class" country can be achieved without "big spending".
But he laid out a series of goals the party would aim to achieve by the end of a second term.
Doubling the number of first-time buyers to 400,000 a year, boosting apprenticeship take-up until it matches the number going to university, halving the number of low-paid workers and creating a million new "green" technology jobs were all part of his "national mission".
"Can anyone build a better future for the working people of Britain? That is the general election question," he said. "Our task is to restore people's faith in the future."
He hailed his conference-opening pledge to raise the minimum wage to £8 an hour by 2020 as the best way of "rewarding the talents of all".
In a series of barbed attacks on his political rivals, Mr Miliband said David Cameron's Conservatives were "the best example of the 'you're on your own', 'rig the system for the powerful' insecure throwback dogma".
He painted the Prime Minister as a champion of millionaires who was more interested in playing Angry Birds on his iPad and taking on Russian oligarchs at tennis than representing ordinary people.
The Tory leader was "unfit" to be prime minister because he was "pandering" to Ukip and risking the integrity of the UK.
He may be narrowly ahead of Prime Minister David Cameron in the opinion polls, but Ed Miliband still faces a tough task to win May's election.
A YouGov poll released yesterday put support for Labour at 35% against 33% for the Tories. More worryingly for Mr Miliband, 63% of respondents said they didn't think he would be up to the job of being prime minister.
Experts say Labour, which was in power from 1997-2010, should be much further ahead in opinion polls at this stage in the electoral cycle than it is.