COVID-19: Not right to 'doggedly' stick to manifesto and ignore 'unprecedented strain' on health services, says Javid

Sunday 12th September 2021 14:15 BST

Speaking on Sky's Trevor Phillips on Sunday programme, the health secretary said the government must respond to the NHS backlog and social care crisis "in a responsible way" - even if that means raising taxes.

It comes in the week that MPs voted in favour of Prime Minister Boris Johnson's plans to increase National Insurance by 1.25 percentage points to raise extra funding for the NHS, and eventually social care.

Labour - and some Conservative MPs - voted against the measure.

Defending the government's plan on Sunday, Mr Javid said: "I want that waiting list to be tackled, and the way to do that is to make sure that the resources are there and we're also making sure of the right reforms."

Mr Javid said all other options should be explored before tax rises, but that raising National Insurance contributions for health and social care investment is the "right" thing to do.

"What I can tell you as a Conservative and as a proud member of a Conservative government, we should always be trying to keep taxes as low as we possibly can, and making sure that we recognise that when you have tax, any type of tax, you're taking away hardworking people's money, and every single penny should be spent wisely.

"I think we should be... if we have to spend more somewhere else, I think that we should always be trying first to see where we can make savings to pay for that, not extra tax rises, and tax rise should always be the last resort.

"It's been right to do it on this occasion, but we should always try to avoid it."

The health secretary also disputed that the government is shifting the responsibility of social care on to councils through its reform proposals.

Asked whether ministers were dumping the costs of social care onto councils, Mr Javid told Sky News: "Not at all."

But the shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, criticised the government's funding plans for health and social care, saying council tax will go up or care homes will go bust.

Speaking on Trevor Phillips On Sunday, he said: "Of course the Labour Party is always going to want to see more money going into the health service.

"But our problem with what has been announced this week is that it is a punishing unfair tax rise that won't deliver the healthcare that is needed. We won't see people treated within 18 weeks again like they were under the last Labour government. And it certainly doesn't fix social care.

"The cap, yes, it limits the liabilities that some people will pay out, but only benefits one in seven people. What about the other six in seven who see no benefit?

"You will still have to pay top-up charges and fees, so you're still at risk of losing your house. So it fails on its own terms.

"In the small print, it suggests that, because of the way the financing works, council tax will go up or care homes will go bust - and there will still be thousands upon thousands of people in this country who don't get access to the social care they need."

Earlier this week, the PM announced a major shake-up of social care funding in England.

A hike in National Insurance will pay for a pledge made when Mr Johnson became prime minister in 2019 to "fix the broken care system".

However, this means he will be breaking his promise to not raise taxes, which has angered Tory backbenchers.

Mr Johnson said he was unable to keep that promise due to the COVID pandemic.

The reforms will see a threshold of £100,000 on the amount of assets a person has before they have to fully fund their own care. Currently, the threshold is £23,250.

From October 2023, anybody with financial assets lower than £20,000 will not have to pay anything for their care from their assets - but may have to contribute towards costs from their income.

The amount anyone with assets between £20,000 and £100,000 will pay will be means-tested, so the fewer financial assets someone has the less they will pay.

The amount anyone has to spend on care will be capped at £86,000 over their lifetime - including younger people receiving care.

They will contribute no more than 20% of their assets each year and if that means the value of their assets falls below £20,000 they will only contribute from their income and not their assets.

But some concerns have been raised as to how much of the money gained by hiking National Insurance contributions will specifically be invested in social care.

Ahead of Wednesday's vote, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) warned the money raised by the increase risked being permanently swallowed up by the NHS with "little if any" left over for social care.

Under the government's plans, the NHS will get the majority of the £36bn raised in the first three years, with £5.4bn for social care in England.

Earlier this week, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told Sky's political editor, Beth Rigby, a "range of options" needed to be looked at.

Sir Keir said he would back "wealth taxes" to fund social care reform, but refused to reveal if he had his own plan.

He has been lambasted from all sides for failing to provide his own plan for reforming social care, including by former Labour health secretary Andy Burnham.

Mr Burnham, who is now mayor of Greater Manchester, told Sky News Sir Keir must come up with a plan for social care by the time of the Labour conference at the end of September.

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