Health and Social Care Levy Debate

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Department: HM Treasury

Health and Social Care Levy

Peter Grant Excerpts
1st reading
Wednesday 8th September 2021

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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First, the hon. Gentleman’s knowledge of my constituency is obviously rather deficient, because I expect that mine shares many characteristics in common with his. I do not dispute the fact that any major fiscal move, such as putting up national insurance and bringing in this levy in this manner, will have associated complexities and difficulties. My pledge to the House is that the Treasury Committee will, I am sure, after private discussion, decide that we wish to look more closely at a number of the issues that are being raised in this debate, including the one that he mentioned.

Let us be honest about the options that were available to the Treasury. How could we have squared the circle and funded £10 billion-plus a year? The first thing that the Treasury could have done is to seek to cut expenditure in other areas, yet I have no doubt that if it came forward with any proposals of that nature, the Opposition would have fiercely resisted that as austerity all over again. We have to understand that on the current projections, there are many unfunded commitments, including, for example, keeping our railways going, going for net zero, additional funding that will be needed for school catch-up and so on.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP)
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Given the right hon. Gentleman’s experience on the Treasury Committee, does he not agree that a tax hike of this scale could—if it was necessary—be much more fairly and equitably carried out if the tax burden was spread across a number of different taxes, rather than 100% of the burden being landed on one single, narrowly based tax?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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I will come back to the hon. Gentleman’s point, but let me just stick with the options. The second option was to lean into growth, to assume that we could grow our way out of this problem. We have just had a huge contraction of the economy. We are not yet back up to the pre-pandemic level, although the Bank of England thinks that we may arrive at that point some time towards the end of the year, and we have many headwinds to growth ahead of us, not least the bottlenecks in supply chains, the labour shortages that we have witnessed in certain areas, and many other issues.

The third thing that the Treasury could have done is to borrow more money, and that is probably what the Opposition would have done in this situation. Despite the fact that the Bank of England now seems to feel that there is more money—I suspect that the Office for Budget Responsibility will confirm that around the time of the Budget— because the economy is doing a bit better than we expected, probably to the tune of about £25 billion, it would be a very brave Chancellor who started to borrow yet more and more, knowing that one day it is possible that the markets might turn around and look at the United Kingdom and decide that they no longer have confidence to lend to us. That would be a very dark day.

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Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP)
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I am pleased to contribute to this debate. As I listened to the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) just now, the words that kept going through my mind were “Union dividend, Union dividend”—we are tied to a nation whose public finances are in a mess, unsustainable and in a dreadful state.

Before I come on to the regressive nature of the Government’s proposal, I want to touch on just how far it falls short of the promises that the Prime Minister and others made in order to get elected. They have claimed that they have a plan to reform social care in England. It is obviously not for me to dictate what that plan should be, but if they have one, perhaps the Minister will tell us what changes, if any, there will be in the balance of resources between the NHS and social care. What changes, if any, will there be to the arrangements to manage each individual’s needs as they make the transition from health to social care? What changes, if any, will there be to the balance in the provision of care for the elderly between residential and non-residential? What changes, if any, are planned to the balance of responsibility between the state and the family?

There are no easy or right or wrong answers to any of those questions, but although I do not have the answers, I know that there are questions. The Prime Minister does not. I do not believe the Prime Minister even recognises that any one of those questions must be faced up to before he can claim to have a plan, or even the first hint of a plan, to deal with the position that we have, or some of us have, in social care.

The second major problem is that, even if the crisis in social care in England could be fixed with money alone, this proposal would not deliver anywhere near enough, and most of the “not enough” is not going to social care. A lot of it will go to benefit the families of some care recipients—some, but not all; and guess which some?—leaving precious little to actually improve the service. To claim that anyone voting against this tax hike today is voting against meaningful improvements to social care is simply untrue, and those who are preparing to make those claims on their Twitter accounts know that what they are about to tweet is not true.

I am in favour of increased funding for our health and social care services. If necessary, I will support fair and progressive tax increases to fund them, and I will pay my share of those taxes quite happily. However, I will not support this proposal, because it is not fair and it is not progressive. It discriminates against younger people with average incomes in favour of older people with much higher incomes. It discriminates against people who earn their money through their own hard work in favour of people who earn their money through the simple fact of having had plenty of it to begin with. It discriminates against my constituents in Glenrothes and Central Fife and in favour of those in places such as the Prime Minister's constituency, where, according to the Government’s own statistics, the average income per person is nearly £10,000 a year higher than what my constituents have to get by on.

The Government have claimed—we have heard this in a number of Conservative contributions—that they already know which of the UK’s nations will contribute most to this tax hike, and which will benefit most. They have claimed to have conducted an analysis which shows that it is not regressive in terms of different income groups. Although our SNP amendment was not selected, I expect to see the Government honour the spirit of that amendment, not by the end of the year but by the end of the week. I expect them to publish the analysis that we have asked for—or is this another case of their claiming to have all the information until they are asked for it, when we suddenly discover that it does not exist?

The final substantial objection to the Government's proposal is that it is designed to grab powers away from the democratically elected Governments of three of the partners in this Union, and place them in the hands of a Prime Minister who has no mandate to do this even in England. I have no issue with anyone allocating additional resources to Scotland, but I have a big issue with signing up to a regressive tax hike with no guarantee whatsoever that the Barnett consequentials will not be siphoned off as a result of some later Budget decision. Any guarantees that we get from the Government today will be as worthless as the promises that they made in their manifesto in 2019.

Let me be clear: the SNP will continue to honour its manifesto commitments. Any Barnett consequentials coming to Scotland as a result of increased spending on health or social care in England will be passed on in full to health and social care services in Scotland. But within that overarching guarantee, who do the Government think has the mandate to decide exactly how Scotland’s health and social care funding is allocated? I doubt that there is a single person, even on the Tory Benches, who honestly thinks it is right to assume that, because a particular way of allocating funding might be right in England, it is automatically right in the other three UK nations, where health and social care are organised in a completely different way. There is all the difference in the world between allocating funding to be used in a way that honours the Scottish Government’s manifesto promises, and decisions being foisted on us in a failed attempt to cover up the fact that the British Government do not keep their promises, to the electorate or to anyone else.

If one of the Prime Minister’s heroes had been here today, he might well have observed that never had so many promises been broken in such a short time to the detriment of so many and to the benefit of so few.

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Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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I have just given way and addressed my right hon. Friend’s points head on. Let me, in turn, address head on the points raised by the shadow Chancellor, the hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves).

In the shadow Chancellor’s speech, she said that she opposed the levy despite, as a number of Members pointed out, the previous Labour Government taking a similar approach in 2002-03, because she supports taxing wealth. The problem with that is that only a broad-based tax base, such as income tax, VAT or national insurance contributions, can raise the sums needed for such a significant investment. Again, that was a point made by critics of the Government, including my good friend, my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker). It could not be raised by taxes on wealth. Currently £6 billion is raised from inheritance tax, £8.7 billion from capital gains tax and £12.3 billion from property transaction tax. Indeed, that case was demolished by the Chair of the Treasury Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride), as well as by my hon. Friends the Members for Dudley South (Mike Wood) and for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), who highlighted that to raise the revenue required requires a broad-based approach.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
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On the subject of cases being demolished, one of the cases that the right hon. Gentleman’s colleagues have made great deal of play of today is that of the fictional Yusuf in the Government’s own document. According to the Government, Yusuf’s care home costs are £700 a week. They claim that under the current system they would have had to spend £293,000 before they reached the current cap. The Minister will be aware—I hope he can count—that in order to spend £293,000 at £700 a week—

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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I would like the hon. Gentleman to put his question.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
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What percentage of people going into a care home have any chance of still being alive in nine years’ time?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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One of the features of the Dilnot proposals—Dilnot has been very frank about this—is that his costs ramp up over time. That is why the initial funding is £5.4 billion, but obviously, the social care element will increase. I will come to the case put forward by SNP Members, who seem bizarrely not to want the Union dividend that is offered and to not be seeking that additional funding. Let me finish on the Opposition amendment—