Francis Maude: big changes to provide better services

Monday saw significant changes to the welfare system and the NHS. Big changes always lead to debate so I thought readers might find it helpful if I provide a summary and some background.

We’re a reforming Government – we’ve had to be because we inherited a shocking deficit that it’s our duty to tackle. The welfare system takes up a huge proportion of all Government spending and we need to reduce that spend whilst focusing on the people who need help the most. Reforms have also been shaped by ensuring it always pays for people to be in work. From April we’ll be rolling out a cap on the total amount of benefits that working-age people can receive and from Monday we brought social housing in line with the private sector so that housing benefit is reduced if tenants have spare rooms. Of course, foster carers, armed services personnel and those with disabled children will be exempt. The change will mean families living in cramped accommodation are given more of an opportunity to move to family homes.

Next Monday the Disability Living Allowance will be replaced by the Personal Independence Payment and benefits will rise by one per cent, not the usual rate of inflation which would have seen an increase of 2.2 per cent. The beginning of this month also saw the abolition of Council Tax Benefit, with responsibility being transferred to councils. It’s estimated that savings will be in the order of £420m each year in England alone.

We’ve also made changes to the health service to make it more efficient, ensuring it’s ready to face the challenges of the 21st century. We also need the NHS to continue to be a world-leader in innovative surgery and treatments – it needs to keep up with new drugs and methods – and that’s expensive.

So, GP-led Clinical Commissioning Groups have replaced Primary Care Trusts and the bureaucratic Strategic Health Authorities are being scrapped. Now GPs will be in charge of how money should be spent in their communities. They’ll be more competition as to who can provide services with charities, social enterprises and companies becoming more involved. Our health service will remain free at the point of delivery and it will be in a better position to manage the challenges of modern life. As a post-script, ever since the formulation of these changes I have been working with local GPs and local councils to see how we can press forward with plans for a new acute hospital to serve NHS patients in Horsham and Crawley – this is a fresh start and a new opportunity to fight for the services we need and deserve.