The Prime Minister’s announcement of the plan to fix social care has been met with a great strength of feeling in the country and here in Salisbury and South Wiltshire. Ultimately, this is an issue that successive governments over many decades have grappled with and failed to act on.
In his address, the Prime Minister rightly emphasised that no Conservative government wants or expects to raise taxes. However, the legacy of the global pandemic has created a unique set of circumstances that would be destructive to ignore.
Throughout the course of the pandemic, the NHS has supported the people of the UK, treating COVID-19 patients, delivering the vaccination programme and saving thousands of lives. But, in doing so, a considerable backlog of routine care has built up and this absolutely must be addressed. As the NHS has helped us as a nation, we must now support its recovery.
We cannot provide sufficient resources for the NHS to deal with the backlog, whilst also offering a salary that will attract and retain the best staff, through a half-hearted attempt or one-off deal. Even pre-pandemic, over a quarter of NHS beds were being used by long-term occupants, many of them fearful of the cost and difficulty of accessing social care. Therefore, helping the NHS in the long term requires a solution to bed blocking and an answer to the population’s ever increasing social care needs.
Over the years, thousands of constituents have spoken to me about the need to reform social care. Now, the pressures created by the pandemic mean that that time is right to follow through and take much needed, long-awaited action.
The proposal to fix social care through creating a permanent 1.25 per cent levy on National Insurance contributions, ringfenced for health and social care, is not a new one. Nor is the concept of capping lifetime contributions towards care costs, giving people with moderate means the confidence to pay their way, free from the fear of being left with nothing to pass on to their families. In fact, when the Dilnot Report was published in 2011, the proposal to cap care costs was met with a warm welcome in the constituency.
The alternative of raising funds through income tax would actually double the burden that would fall on individuals because income tax is not paid by business, only by private citizens. Nevertheless, by protecting the lowest paid and those with the fewest assets from making any contribution at all, and by adding extra tax on investment income from dividends, we will ensure that the richest 14 per cent will meet 50 per cent of the cost overall, while the average basic rate taxpayer will pay £3.46 per week.
Of course, more money is meaningless without reform. This is why the Prime Minister has explicitly committed to drive forward innovation in both the NHS and social care, ending the disconnect that I know so many people find so worrying and frustrating.
Fixing social care is extremely difficult and can only be done through radical action. Successive governments of all stripes have tried ducking the issue. Now is the time for change.