Health and Social Care Levy Debate

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Department: HM Treasury

Health and Social Care Levy

Clive Betts Excerpts
1st reading
Wednesday 8th September 2021

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Health and Social Care Levy Act 2021 View all Health and Social Care Levy Act 2021 Debates Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Jesse Norman Portrait Jesse Norman
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The hon. Lady will be aware that, because of the employment allowance, the bottom 40% of businesses will pay nothing and the next 40% will pay an average of £450. So this does not fall heavily on the bottom end of businesses, and of course it comes in a context in which the Government have provided over £400 billion of support to business and to the nation as a whole in the course of fighting the pandemic. In that sense it is, and it has been recognised to be by reputable independent commentators, a broad-based approach.

From April 2023, once HMRC systems have been updated, a formal legal surcharge of 1.25% will replace the temporary increase in NICs rates, which will return to their previous level. Again, this revenue will be ring-fenced in law for health and for social care only. As the Chancellor stated yesterday, this levy is no stealth tax. That is why the exact amount that each employee pays will also be visible as a separate line on their payslip. Finally, the levy will be administered by HMRC, and collected by the current reporting and collection procedures for NICs—pay-as-you-earn and income tax self-assessment.

Clive Betts Portrait Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab)
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I want to ask the Minister: how much money is actually going to get to local authorities to deliver social care at the frontline? Can I refer him to paragraph 36 of the Government’s document, which we got yesterday? It says that £5.4 billion in adult social care will be provided from this levy, but that will be spent on the reforms that are in the document. It also says that all the other pressures on social care that local authorities have now, demographic and otherwise, will be paid for from council tax and the social care precept, which is council tax by another name. So are we expecting the pressures on social care to be funded not from this document, but actually from further rises in council tax? Is that the honest situation?

Jesse Norman Portrait Jesse Norman
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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and I am also very grateful to him for actually reading the document, which many of his colleagues may not have done, and he is absolutely right to draw attention to that section. What the levy does, of course, is to provide a very substantial form of funding for social care. The question of the capacity of local authorities, which is of course a matter of great interest to Government and an area that we have supported significantly in the last year or two, will be considered in the Budget in the normal course of things.

If I may, I will now set out why a levy based on national insurance is the best way to raise the funds needed for the Government’s plan for health and social care. The first reason is that there is already a clear precedent. Indeed, in 2003 the then Labour Government increased these same NICs rates by 1% specifically to put more funding into the NHS. Within the NICs system there is, as Members across the House will know, already a long-standing ring-fenced proportion of receipts directed to the NHS.

The second reason is that this is a fair method. Businesses will play their part. In fact, the largest 1% of businesses will contribute 70% of the revenue. However, existing NICs reliefs and allowances will also apply to the levy. That will mean, as I have said, that 40% of all businesses will not be affected due to the employment allowance. When it comes to individuals, those earning more will pay more. Conversely, at least 6.2 million people earning less than the NICs primary threshold will not pay the levy at all.

The third reason why a levy based on NICs is the right approach is that it has worked elsewhere. France, Germany and Japan have all increased social security contributions to fund social care provision. Finally, the question of how to fund health and social care is one that applies to a whole nation. NICs are set on a UK-wide basis, and the levy therefore provides a clear UK-wide solution.

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Rachel Reeves Portrait Rachel Reeves
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I will give way to the Chair of the Select Committee.

Clive Betts Portrait Mr Betts
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I bring my hon. Friend back to paragraph 36, which I asked the Minister about, which seems absolutely key. There is no clear money coming from the levy to social care. That is what the Government said. I think the Minister said it would all be revealed in the spending review. Paragraph 36 states:

“The Government will ensure Local Authorities have access to sustainable funding for core budgets at the Spending Review. We expect demographic and unit cost pressures will be met through Council Tax, social care precept”.

On top of all the other hits that working families are going to get, can they expect an above-inflation rise in their council tax next year to pay for the Government’s failure to fund social care properly?

Rachel Reeves Portrait Rachel Reeves
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I think many councils and the people who work for them and provide social care at a local level will be incredibly worried about what they are hearing from this Government, which is that council costs are going to go up while they are getting no additional money.

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Paul Bristow Portrait Paul Bristow
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We will not approach the backlog unless we have the money and capacity to fund it, and that needs to go hand in hand with what I said about innovation, new pathways and new ways of working. I remember talking to someone who told me that we had three years’ worth of innovation in the NHS in just three months because of the pandemic. New ways of working and new pathways were adopted.

Every time we talk about innovation in our NHS and new pathways—the accelerated access review, the “Innovation Health and Wealth” report and a new life sciences strategy all talk about innovation and new ways of doing things in our NHS. But those new ways of doing things need to be spread at pace and at scale. There is no excuse not to do it now. If it works in one part of the NHS, it will work in another. Culturally, the NHS needs to grasp the nettle and spread that innovation and new ways of doing things so that we can get productivity and outcomes for patients. Now is the time to do it.

Clive Betts Portrait Mr Betts
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The Health and Social Care Committee, of which the hon. Gentleman is a member, estimated last autumn that there was a £3.9 billion funding gap in social care. I assume that he agreed with that report. Can he explain, therefore, how this levy will deliver £3.9 billion a year for social care? I have not seen any figures showing that at all.

Paul Bristow Portrait Paul Bristow
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Having no plan will not provide the £3.9 billion, and Labour Members have indicated today that there is no plan.

This is a significant tax increase. I am a Conservative, so I do not like tax increases, but I also understand that an enormous thing happened between the manifesto and now. There has been a global pandemic, and Labour Members seem to have missed that fact. We need to shorten waiting lists, we need to do something about it and we need to correct it.

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Clive Betts Portrait Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab)
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It is pretty obvious that there has been a major funding crisis in local government over the past 10 years. Local councils have had bigger cuts to their budgets than any other part of the public sector, around 30%.

Imran Hussain Portrait Imran Hussain
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My hon. Friend is right to highlight the importance of local government, unlike the Minister, who barely acknowledged its existence. Does he agree that the last decade of ideological austerity and cuts by this Government has meant that local government budgets have been slashed by up to 50%, directly contributing to this crisis?

Clive Betts Portrait Mr Betts
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I have made my position clear on the extent to which local government has been unfairly cut compared with other parts of the public sector.

Across the piece, local councils of all political persuasions have done a brilliant job of protecting their communities over the past few years. They have done it by giving priority to social care, but that has still meant real-terms cuts due to the demographics, with more older people, with people with learning disabilities living longer and with increased costs and demand for children’s social care—demand for the latter two has gone up faster than the demand for elderly care over the past few years.

In protecting social care, there have still been real-terms cuts. There are 1 million more elderly people not getting care who would have received it in the past. Other services, such as parks, libraries, buses and highway safety, have all been cut by up to 50% in local authorities across the country. We are repeatedly asking our constituents to pay increased council tax, often for care services they are not receiving, when the services they do receive are being cut to shreds. That is the reality.

As representatives of both parties in the local government sector said to the Select Committee on Housing, Communities and Local Government, we cannot sort out the funding problems in local government without sorting out the funding problems in social care. That is the reality.

We are in the middle of a Select Committee inquiry, and we will be taking evidence from Ministers. I hope they will start to explain to us how the care plan will solve that problem. The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee and the Health and Social Care Committee have received estimates that the funding gap for social care alone is between £2.5 billion and £4 billion a year, which does nothing to restore services to the level they should be at or to address the real problems of low pay, which will eventually destroy the service because it will not be able to recruit people as alternative jobs, such as at Amazon, pay so much more. That is simply the reality.

How much money will come from the levy? Paragraph 30 is the only bit that talks about money: £5.5 billion over three years. The gap is between £2.5 billion and £4 billion a year, yet we know the £5.5 billion has to fund: the cap and floor system, which will be at least half of it, maybe more; and the £500 million for workforce training, which is welcome. The money goes nowhere near funding the current gap, let alone bringing about any improvements or bringing people into the social care system who are currently excluded. It just does not do it.

The Government have said they will

“ensure local authorities have access to sustainable funding for core budgets at the spending review”.

All will be revealed in the spending review, but the key bit is that the Government say they expect

“demographic and unit cost pressures”

will be met

“through council tax, social care precept”.

We have had 5% council tax increases year on year, and a lot of it has been to fund social care, so we are going to get above-inflation council tax increases again, are we? If we say national insurance payments are regressive, council tax is now regressive, too. That is the reality.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Clive Betts Portrait Mr Betts
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Yes, I will give way, because I think the hon. Gentleman will ask me about the Select Committee’s 2018 report. Am I correct?

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
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Yes, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. As always, he is making some very good points. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with him on the Select Committee.

We did two reports on social care, and we made a recommendation in 2018 to fund social care through the national insurance system. Does the hon. Gentleman still support that recommendation?

Clive Betts Portrait Mr Betts
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Yes. However, may I just say to the hon. Gentleman that it was a slightly different recommendation from what the Government are proposing now? I have our report here, just by chance—I thought I might be asked the question. We talked about the rate at which national insurance would be paid—this was to cover the points that the right hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry) made about low-paid areas. We talked about paying right the way up the income scale. We talked about extending it to pensions and unearned income, and about it not being paid for by the under-40s, who have been really badly hit by this pandemic, and we ought to be doing our best to protect them. In paragraph 95, we also made the important point that people should not have to sell their homes to pay for social care and proposed instead

“that a specified additional amount of Inheritance Tax should be levied”.

We all agreed to that. That system is a lot fairer; people would pay according to the value of their home and it would not be that people in constituencies such as the right hon. Gentleman’s, where house prices are relatively low, end up paying a bigger percentage of the value of their home to fund care than people in areas with higher house prices. I stand by that recommendation. It is a different proposal from the one the Government are now putting forward.

I want to come back to the point for the Minister. There is a crisis in social care, and we have all got that; we all have constituents come to us begging for social care. They are really concerned about having to sell their home, but sometimes it is about not being able to get into a care home or get the care at home they need. Most social care should be delivered in the home where people live. The reality is that there simply is not a proposal in this so-called “plan” to give local authorities that money that is needed to both fund the existing gap and to extend social care to the many people who have been denied it because of the cuts in the past few years. Furthermore, the alternatives will be: bigger rises in council tax—the Government have almost signalled that in this report; or further devastating cuts to other services received by most of our constituents, who do not get social care but have to pay for it. This is a recipe for disaster. Eventually, when it works through, everyone will see that there is no plan for social care here, because there is no funding for social care that will deliver the sort of social care system we all want to see.

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Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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I will come to the points on devolution and happily give way at that stage, but let me just deal with the Opposition amendment, which requests a distributional impact assessment. As we have covered, that has been set out today. The Government have already published a document on the impact of our health and social care plan on households, looking at the impact of the new spending and the levy, with a full distributional analysis being published at the Budget and spending review.

As for the impact on businesses, businesses will play their part in funding this plan. However, existing national insurance contribution reliefs and allowances will also apply to the levy. This means that 40% of all businesses will not be affected due to the employment allowance, and it allows eligible employees to reduce their national insurance liability by up to £4,000. Again, that point was brought out by my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison), who highlighted the impact on business and the fact that businesses, with 1% of the highest turnover, will cover 70% of the cost.

Clive Betts Portrait Mr Betts
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I think the right hon. Gentleman probably knows which point I am going to raise. I am very interested in the impact on local authorities. Out of the £36 billion that will be raised over three years, how much extra money will go to local authorities after the costs of the “cap and floor” system have been taken into account? How much extra money over three years will go to local authorities out of the £36 billion?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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I listened very closely to the hon. Gentleman’s speech, because he is a very informed and knowledgeable commentator on these issues. He rightly pointed to paragraph 36, where we are being very clear about the role in terms of demographic and unit pressure. As he well knows, part of the discussion at a spending review is to look at local government pressures in the round. That is in the context that local authorities are getting an additional £2.2 billion of funding. I remind the House, in terms of the adult social care flexibility that was allowed for councils this year, that out of the 152 local authorities, less than two thirds actually used that flexibility. That is part of looking at these issues in context.

Let me come to the central point put forward by the Scottish National party, which was very well demolished by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont). All parts of the United Kingdom need a long-term solution to fund health and social care. The Scottish Government’s independent review of adult social care recently noted—[Interruption.] I am quoting from their own review. I thought they would want to hear that. It stated that

“Scotland’s ageing demography means that more money will need to be spent on adult social care over the long term”—

and its recommendations to the Scottish Government are that this would

“require a long-term and substantial uplift in adult social care funding.”

In fact, in 2002, John Swinney said that a 1% increase was

“progressive taxation…required to invest in the health service in Scotland”.—[Scottish Parliament Official Report, 18 April 2002; c. 8005.]