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The Prime Minister took a political gamble on Tuesday as he scrapped a manifesto promise by raising national insurance contributions to deal with the Covid-induced backlog in the NHS and deliver long-overdue reform of the social care system in England.
Tory opposition to the plans when first leaked was fierce, but any backbench rebellion appeared to have subsided by Tuesday as MPs provided little challenge to the PM as he presented his proposals to the Commons.
But the plan – along with another manifesto-breaking announcement to temporarily suspend the “triple lock” on pensions – moves Mr Johnson away from his traditional position of low-tax Conservatism.
The PM also refused to give a firm commitment that taxes would not go up again – although he said he did not want that to happen.
“I certainly don’t want any more tax rises in this Parliament. If you want me to give that emotional commitment, of course that’s the case,” he told a press conference in Downing Street, flanked by Health Secretary Sajid Javid and Chancellor Rishi Sunak.
He said: “There are not many people in the Conservative Party… who are more dedicated to cutting taxes, bearing down on taxes where we can, than the three people standing before you today, I absolutely assure you of the truth of that.”
Mr Sunak added: “None of us standing here wants to be in a situation where we are raising taxes.”
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Mr Javid said he appreciates the tax hike “does not sit easily with everyone”, but “no responsible government – especially a Conservative one – can bury its head in the sand and pass these problems on to the next one”.
However, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) think tank said the announcements meant tax revenues will reach the highest ever share of national income, and combined with previous announcements will raise the tax burden in the UK to the highest-ever sustained level.
Mr Johnson is expected to address the influential 1922 committee of backbench Tory MPs ahead of the vote on Wednesday.
The Government’s plan will see the introduction of a new health and social care levy, based on a 1.25 percentage-point increase in national insurance (NI) contributions – breaking a Tory commitment not to raise NI.
Under the new levy a typical basic-rate taxpayer earning £24,100 would pay £180 more a year, while a higher-rate taxpayer on £67,100 would pay £715.
As well as providing extra funding for the NHS to deal with the backlog built up during the Covid-19 pandemic, the new package of £36 billion over three years will also reform the way adult social care in England is funded.
A cap of £86,000 on lifetime care costs from October 2023 will protect people from the “catastrophic fear of losing everything”, Mr Johnson said.
The Government will fully cover the cost of care for those with assets under £20,000, and contribute to the cost of care for those with assets between £20,000 and £100,000.
Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland will receive an extra £2.2 billion a year as a result, around 15% more than they will contribute through the levy, creating what ministers described as a “Union dividend” of £300 million.
Reports suggested some Cabinet members had privately challenged Mr Johnson when he unveiled his plan to them on Tuesday morning, but none have resigned over the principle.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats have said they will oppose the measures in Parliament on Wednesday, but former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he thought the Government would win the vote.
He told the BBC: “I can’t really imagine any backbenchers wanting to turn round to their own constituents and say they tried to vote down extra money for the NHS and care system.”