As George Osborne prepares to deliver his Autumn Statement, the Labour Party has gleefully seized on findings that David Cameron has failed to live up to his pledge to increase NHS spending every year, a central plank of the prime minister’s 2010 election campaign.
On Tuesday the UK Statistics Authority rebuked the government for saying the NHS budget had increased in real-terms in the past two years.
The watchdog said that despite recent claims from ministers - including newly appointed health secretary Jeremy Hunt - health spending in 2011-12 was in fact lower than in 2009-10.
At mid-day on Wednesday the chancellor is likely to be forced to admit he will miss his self-imposed target for eliminating the structural deficit, balancing the government’s books, by 2015.
During the 2010 election campaign the Tories unveiled a poster featuring Cameron’s face and the slogan: “I’ll cut the deficit, not the NHS”.
Unfortunately for the prime minister and his chancellor and chief political strategist Labour are now able to argue the reverse has happened - including by producing spoof posters as above.
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said: “So now you have it in black & white: the man who promised to 'cut the deficit, not the NHS' has in fact cut the NHS, not the deficit.”
He added: "The prime minister must come to the House of Commons at the earliest opportunity and correct the record.
"He has been found out. He has cut the NHS budget for two years running and he owes it to NHS staff to be honest about that."
However a Department of Health spokesman said: "The 2010-11 year should not be used as a baseline for NHS spending because the budget and spending plans were set in place by the previous government."
On Tuesday, the government sought to secure good headlines in the papers ahead of the chancellor's statement by announcing it intended to invest an extra £5bn in schools and other infrastructure projects – to be funded by cuts in day-to-day spending by other Whitehall departments.
Faced with official figures set to show both borrowing and the debt going up Osborne will be forced to cut deeper and increase taxes to compensate, making it a grim day for the chancellor.
Delivering his statement this afternoon, Osborne will argue that he is "confronting the country's problems, instead of ducking them".
"The public know that there are no miracle cures. Just the hard work of dealing with our deficit and ensuring Britain wins the global race," he will say.Suggest a correction