Northern Tories have criticised Boris Johnson’s plans to introduce a health and social care levy as “un-Conservative”, as they urged ministers to consider regional disparities in regard to the proposals.
The criticism comes as MPs voted by 319-248 – a majority of 71 – to back the prime minister’s manifesto-busting hike in national insurance from April 2022 in order to tackle the NHS backlog and attempt to fix the crisis in social care.
Attempting to shore up support for the proposals among members of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservative MPs ahead of the vote on Wednesday evening, Mr Johnson insisted that the Conservatives remained the party of “low taxation” – just 24 hours after unveiling considerable tax rises.
Despite anger within the party over the tax-raising measures – which flout the 2019 general election pledge – a number of Conservatives opted to abstain rather than vote against the government’s proposals.
Just five Tory MPs voted against the proposals in total, including former minister Esther McVey, Christopher Chope, Neil Hudson, John Redwood and Philip Davies.
There was also dismay that a scheme to place a lifetime cap of £86,000 on social-care costs in England would primarily benefit elderly households in the more affluent parts of the south at the expense of working families elsewhere.
Conservative MP Jake Berry, who chairs the Northern Research Group of backbench Tories, described the increase during the debate on Wednesday as a “job tax”, as he urged the government to “think again”.
“I welcome the new money for the NHS, but throwing other people’s money down a bottomless pit doesn’t become a good idea if you put an NHS logo next to it,” he added, as he labelled the measure “un-Conservative”.
Mr Berry, alongside Dehenna Davison – a member of the 2019 intake of northern Conservative MPs – also urged ministers to “consider looking at regional disparities in house prices” in relation to the plans.
Ms Davison, the MP for Bishop Auckland in County Durham, who abstained on the motion, suggested the income floor should be linked to the percentage of property ownership, asking whether the wealthiest should qualify for the £86,000 cap on costs and whether there were “better alternatives” to a levy on national insurance.
“I don’t feel there has been enough time to engage with my constituents to gauge their concerns, and to engage with ministers to raise them,” she posted on social media. “I believe we need to see a bit more detail too.”
Elsewhere, the former Conservative minister Steve Baker said the move was socialist, as he told MPs: “We’re going to have to rediscover our confidence as free-market Conservatives.
“We’re going to have to rediscover the radical reforming zeal of the 2010 parliament, and the ‘big society’, and show people that we can secure a bright and prosperous and free future which provides for their needs in old age, but do it without – every time there’s a squeeze on the public finances – coming back for higher taxes, because down that road there is ruin,” he said.
Unveiling the proposals on Tuesday, Mr Johnson told MPs a new “health and social care levy” would be created from April 2022 – effectively a national insurance hike of 1.25 percentage points.
But speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer made clear that his party’s MPs would be directed to vote against the motion, as he described the measure as imposing “unfair taxes on working people”.
“This is a government that underfunded the NHS for a decade, before the pandemic, then wasted billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on dodgy contracts, vanity projects and giveaways to mates,” he said.
Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s former chief aide at No 10, posted on social media that young people, who had already been “screwed over by a decade of hapless Tory government”, would have to “work harder to subsidise older, richer people” because of the newly announced policy.
However, Mr Johnson insisted: “This is the first time that the state has actually come in to deal with the threat of these catastrophic costs, thereby enabling the private sector, the financial services industry, to supply the insurance products that people need to guarantee themselves against the costs of care.”
On Tuesday night, social care leaders warned that the £12bn-a-year funds would fail to end the crisis in social care, while think tank the Institute for Fiscal Studies said the health and social care levy risked being permanently swallowed up by the NHS – “leaving little available for social care”.
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