Isabel Hardman

Tories brace for more tax rises to fund NHS

Tories brace for more tax rises to fund NHS
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Any Tory rebellion on social care is unlikely to be very big this evening when the Commons votes on a resolution introducing it. There are a number of reasons for this, not least that voting against a money resolution, particularly one on an issue that is as big as a budget, is a much bigger deal than rebelling on normal legislation. Then there's the prospect of a reshuffle, with everyone in Westminster busily trying to read runes about whether Boris Johnson will move around his front bench tomorrow. If it doesn't happen, disappointed MPs are hardly going to complain in public that they'd supported the policy in the hope of career glory.

Ministers have also been keen to tell would-be rebels that this vote isn't the end of the matter and that they are open to improving the policy. This has moved some over from saying publicly that they would oppose, to conceding that it is better to abstain on the vote tonight and then work with the government. Marcus Fysh is one such, telling me:

‘I can't possibly support it as set out and will be abstaining. I'm not voting against because I want to see if we can work constructively with the government to get the policy and legislation in relation to it fixed. Ministers have said they are open to working on ways to improve this and over the coming weeks and months we are going to be trying to get the policy into a better place.’

One senior Tory also remarks that ‘Boris was disarming in admitting he was breaking a commitment and if the alternative is borrowing, that's even worse’.

But one clear point of anxiety for a lot of MPs who are voting in favour is that the NHS will continue to need the lion's share of the money, even after the three-year period where it is supposed to be focused on clearing the backlog. There has been no reassurance at all on this point. This morning Damian Green wrote a ConservativeHome piece on his worries after the Prime Minister failed to guarantee that social care will get the money. And Johnson dodged Sir Keir Starmer's questions today about whether the backlog would be cleared. Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said that ‘few people think the backlog will be dealt with by then or the NHS will willingly spend less money’ – though he also points out that 'much of the increase for social care after three years is ‘baked in`’ with hard commitments on the new £86k cap, and a pledge that no-one with assets of less than £100k will have to spend more than 20 per cent of them to fund care in any year.

So if the NHS won't willingly stop spending money, and the new care policy requires that money after three years, what's going to happen? The Prime Minister's spokesman this afternoon pointed out that the NHS had committed to making efficiencies and that the money was to deal with the backlog. But he couldn't guarantee that the money would switch over to social care, or the date by which that might happen. One senior Tory backbencher predicts that ‘the 1.25 per cent is going to get an extra 0.75 per cent: that's absolutely what's going to happen in October 2024 when the money was supposed to be going to social care. We can't even take the £20-a-week universal credit uplift back, so what makes anyone think we're going to take money away from the NHS?’ No wonder Boris Johnson would only give an 'emotional commitment' to trying to avoid further tax rises.