After all the talk about “unprecedented” times, discussion about just how much the pandemic has changed things seem cliched or overdone – but it is worth remembering.
The economic impact of the pandemic is staggering, and unlike anything that has happened in any of our lifetimes. Alongside this we have the social care crisis, which has been growing for several years. We have a shortage of care workers, and those that we do have are chronically underpaid.
Many people simply cannot afford to receive care when they need it, seeing people across the country with conditions like dementia becoming financially destitute or having to sell their homes to receive the support they require.
Age UK has estimated that 1.5 million people in England do not receive the care they need.
So, we have the existing care crisis, growing larger the longer it is left unchecked, and the many financial crises brought on from Coronavirus. A solution is needed to both problems, nobody disputes that. However, this week a vote in Parliament passed that may not only not solve either of these problems but could worsen them.
On Tuesday September 7th, Boris Johnson unveiled his long-awaited solution to the social care crisis, as well as the NHS treatment backlog which was already in the millions before the pandemic and has grown exponentially since.
This solution was, in its simplest form, a rise in National Insurance of 1.25%. An upper limit of £86,000 of individual contributions towards social care has been set, those with assets below £20,000 will have to contribute nothing and those with assets between £20,000 and £100,000 will have to contribute on a yet to be announced sliding scale. Those with assets above £100,000 must meet all fees until their assets fall below £100,000.
In an unusual step this raise will be brought in by statue as its own line on payslips, distinct from general taxation and other deductions, and be known as the Health & Social Care Levy.
If a person is on £30,000, they will now be taxed an extra £255 per year. For many families, the difference here will be huge.
We know how desperately a solution is needed to these problems, but this is the completely wrong one. It will further financially squeeze already squeezed workers and doesn’t go even nearly far enough to solve the crisis in the care sector.
An increase in National Insurance will mean all workers, including our poorest workers, will have to pay much more. It will, somewhat ironically, mean that the care workers designed to be helped by the bill will be paying more!
It seems, quite plainly, inconceivable that there are no better ideas than raising National Insurance. As the net worth of the very wealthiest has risen dramatically over the pandemic, and house prices have sky-rocketed, many will be left wondering if there were fairer answers to this problem that involved those with broader shoulders lifting heavier burdens than what was passed yesterday.
It means that a landlord renting out ten properties will see their income unchanged, but those paying rent will see their income go down.
When it comes to the care sector, this plan falls far short of what is required.
Our members in the care sector have told us just how demoralised they are. They feel overworked, underpaid, and undervalued. Over the past year they’ve seen some of the worst scenes from the pandemic, and it’s clear an overhaul of the system is needed to prevent it from collapsing in on itself.
Yet we cannot even currently be sure that much of the money raised will reach care homes. Many within the care sector say that this also falls far short of what is needed, and local authorities remain devoid of funds to step in and support.
It is also, again, inconceivable how someone with £190k assets having to pay £90K for care would not have to sell their home, whatever the stated intentions of this bill may be.
So with a higher tax burden unfairly falling on our nations less well-off, it is unclear at this stage how this would fix our stretched to breaking point care sector or end the scandal of elderly or unwell people having to sell their homes to afford care.
At times like this, when our economy and jobs market is still precarious, we need an investment in jobs. We need investments in skills and in growth, to ensure that we have an economy ready for recovery and ready for recovery. This tax rise on millions of working people simply isn’t the answer to the problems in our care system.
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