The recent decision by the Tory government to increase National Insurance (NI) by 1.25% is allegedly to deal with the crisis in social care. The move has been described by some in the mainstream media as “brave and bold”. But the reality is somewhat different. The main impact of these measures will be to tax workers. Meanwhile the transfer of public wealth into the coffers of the already rich owners of private companies will continue. The Tories are, in a new way, attempting to make workers pay for a crisis not of their making.
This measure will not come close to providing the NHS with adequate funding. Nor will it deal with the deep, serious and prolonged problems in social care. All governments over the last 40 years have implemented the neoliberal rule book in this sector, to devastating effect. This is true both for workers and for those they care for. The policies of privatisation and cuts have stripped care workers of the skills, time and opportunity to do their valuable job with dignity for themselves and their clients. So, as the care home-owner looks at getting another new car, we are left to lend money to colleagues for bus fare to do their job. These are some of the most caring and committed people that I’ve had the privilege to work with. But the conditions they toil under are oppressive and disgusting.
The result is that elderly, sick and disabled people are left with what is all-too-often inadequate care with an enormous price tag. The total cost of care for someone living with dementia can be as much as £500,000, for example. But currently, anyone with assets worth over £24,000 must fund care themselves.
This tax increase will hit all workers hard – especially the low paid. It will add insult to injury to the NHS staff already outraged by a 3% pay offer. Social care workers who, particularly in the private sector, often work for minimum wage, will also be worse off. At the same time, UK billionaires have increased their wealth by over £106 billion during the pandemic. An immediate wealth tax levied on this ‘Covid capital’ could generate more than eight times one year’s estimated revenue from the NI rise. That’s without touching the eye watering sums this super-rich few accumulated pre-pandemic.
Meanwhile, there is nothing in this legislation that deals with the lack of dignity in social care for workers and clients. Some of the most vulnerable people in this country are cared for by some of the most exploited workers. This is the true nature of the crisis in social care, and this tax only adds to the misery.
Within the detail of this legislation, we discover more of the government’s motives. The NI increase is expected to raise £36 billion over three years, with only £5.4 billion going “towards changes to the social care system”. Care workers will pay 13.25% from their meagre wages, yet care home-owners will only pay 3.25% on income over £50,000.
There could be £30 billion earmarked for the NHS, to help deal with the record backlog of operations and appointments, caused by decades of underfunding and accentuated by the pandemic. The private health companies will be lining up to get access to these contracts from their Tory chums, as they did with the billions of public money trousered by their friends, family and backers during the “track & trace” scandals. These plans will not provide anywhere near enough funds to deal with the backlog of work in the NHS.
NI rise unfair
The extra money going into social care, inadequate and insulting as it is, will go nowhere near to dealing with the real crisis – which itself directly impacts on the ability of the NHS to function. To the problems of endemic low pay, decades of privatisation and low morale, this is a feeble response. It provides no solution for the millions of people who currently require care, nor for the millions more who will do in the future. Instead, the overwhelming cost burden will continue to be placed on individuals and their families.
Social care is drifting into a dystopian nightmare where the bosses squeeze every penny out of their staff, as they battle to give dignified care to our elderly, disabled and vulnerable people, and at the same time try to have a dignified existence at work and at home. At the same time, while the Tories’ plan to lift the assets cap (above which the individual becomes personally responsible for their care costs) from £24,000 to £86,000 represents a small improvement, it still means millions will face having to sell their homes should they succumb to long-term illness.
Local government has been under attack for decades by the agenda of privatisation and austerity. Many Local Authorities are near bankruptcy, but these plans saddle them with responsibility for meeting the extra costs of social care created by lifting the asset cap, without properly restoring council funding.
The enormity of the crisis means that we must fight for a brave and bold solution. Health and Social Care union leaders have called for the government to: “fund the sector properly, deliver for low-paid staff and take the profit out of caring”. These are important demands. But what we need is a comprehensive care system which provides social care, free at the point of use, to all who need it. Such a system would require a massive increase in funding, with care workers paid a decent wage and all privatised care services brought back in-house.
This would be easily affordable if the search for funding started at the top of society, not the bottom. NI is already an unfair form of taxation, in which the rate increases more slowly for those earning more than £50,000 a year. Yet Labour’s new Blairite leadership refuses to support even the basic principle that it should be the rich who are asked to pay more tax. Being prepared to challenge an economic system in which a tiny minority own and control vast swathes of the economy is utterly out of the question for them. This only shows that Starmer is leader of the ‘opposition’ in name only. The real opposition to this government of the rich must be built by working-class and young people.
Build a real opposition
We need co-ordinated union action by the health and social care unions, including Unison and Unite. This should be organised on pay, but also on the future of these vital services. Determined action such as this could act to channel the anger of working-class people across the country. Bold leadership in these unions, with rank-and-file activists organising within their workplaces and communities, can challenge this weak government. The Tories have presided over tens of thousands of preventable deaths due to Covid-19. They have failed to prevent the NHS facing catastrophic shortages of equipment and personnel. Their austerity and privatisation have driven the social care sector into a disastrous crisis. Now we must build a movement to challenge them. The brewing anger and discontent of keyworkers can be a vital part of the powerful force that pushes the Tories out.
· Take the wealth out of the hands of the billionaires – not working class people – to fund mass investment in social care.
· End and reverse privatisation! Bring social care, along with all outsourced health and care services back into public ownership, under democratic control and management of working class people.
· Take the banks and big business into democratic public ownership so that the enormous wealth hoarded by the capitalist class can be invested where it is really needed.
· For a socialist society that puts people’s need, including health and social care, before profits of the capitalist class
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