After Brexit, Covid & Afghanistan, could social care be the final nail in Boris’s coffin?

GB News: Stephen Dorrell talks about National Insurance for social care

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There have been many storms facing Boris Johnson since he took over as Prime Minister in 2019. Taking the UK out of the EU, and the ensuing and continuing Northern Ireland border issue; the handling of a deadly global pandemic in which the UK has among the highest death toll in the world; and the end of a 20-year war in Afghanistan and the resulting crisis.

There were many moments where Mr Johnson’s critics thought he might not survive – the explosive Dominic Cummings allegations and Whatsapps, or the lobbying scandal and accusations of rampant cronyism.

But the Prime Minister managed to weather these storms, largely by keeping his head down and insisting he was focused on getting the country through the pandemic.

His popularity has slipped, however, with opinion polls showing the man who swept up an alarmingly large majority in the 2019 general election is now mostly disapproved of by the British public.

And now, it seems he might end up driving the final nail in his political coffin by breaking an oft-touted manifesto pledge on taxes to pay for social care.

According to reports, the Prime Minister is finalising a reform package in which National Insurance taxes would be increased to pay for improvements to the social care system.

A promise not to raise NI taxes was a cornerstone of the Tory 2019 election manifesto.

But one Whitehall official said: “When doing something as huge and significant as fixing the social care system for the long term, you do need to pay for it somehow.”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is said to have been anxious about the budgetary costs of social care reform and has sought to ensure any funds raised by tax rises are sufficient to offset spending.

Major changes are needed to the social care system, which helps older and disabled people with day-to-day tasks such as washing, dressing, eating and medication.

The current system is under pressure after past governments failed to fund it properly or bring in reforms, with Age UK estimating 1.5 million people in England don’t get the help they need, and billions of pounds are now required to plug the gaps.

With the total cost of the social care package likely to be about £10bn a year once fully implemented, it would require a 2p in the pound increase in national insurance, with 1p extra levied on both the employee and employer rates.

A Government spokesperson said: “We are committed to bringing forward a long-term plan to reform the social care system and we will set out proposals this year.”

But raising taxes will be met with hostility on both sides of the House of Commons, with fears the voter could punish the Tories in the next election.

Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s former chief adviser, warned voters would not forgive the Government for breaking its pledges on taxes and called raising NI a “terrible way to do it”.

In his blog, he wrote: “Why should young people on average and below-average incomes lose disposable income to pay for another subsidy for the older middle classes? This is bad policy and bad politics.”

And those still within the political fray agree.

Ex-Conservative Chancellor Lord Philip Hammond told Times Radio increasing National Insurance could provoke a “very significant backlash”.

Sir John Redwood, a former Cabinet minister, described the proposal as a “bad idea”.

Conservative MP Marcus Fysh said he was “alarmed at the apparent direction of travel” of the Government, and calling it a “socialist approach to social care”.

Many other Tories accept that a tax rise is needed – but say it should not be National Insurance because that could hit younger and lower-income workers harder, while pensioners would not have to pay.

Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said there should be a new “health and care premium” added to tax, rather than raising National Insurance or income tax, while Lord Hammond said “the only fair and workable answer is insurance scheme… if necessary, Government-backed.”

Labour has also voiced its opposition to an increase to National Insurance, with shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy arguing that the “burden of the social care crisis” shouldn’t fall on “supermarket workers and delivery drivers”.

Party leader Sir Keir Starmer is expected to come under pressure to set out how he would fund the reforms in the coming weeks.

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