14 September 2021
Health and Social Care Levy Bill, Second Reading

Jesse Norman, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, winds up the debate on the Second Reading of the Health and Social Care Levy Bill which will establish a long-term, permanent funding arrangement to support health and social care.

Jesse Norman (The Financial Secretary to the Treasury)

I thank everyone who has taken part in what has been, with one or two exceptions, a generally constructive debate. I will start with the contribution of the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare). She said rightly that politics is about choices, but what choice has Labour given the people of this country? Has it given the people of this country a healthcare plan or a social care plan? Has it given the people of this country any indication of what taxes it would raise? Again and again, the Opposition have been asked by Members not just on the Government Benches, but elsewhere, what taxes they would raise and what their plan is, and there is no plan.

Helen Hayes 

Will the Minister give way?

Jesse Norman 

There have been 27 speeches, so, if I may, I will continue for a while. I may take an intervention later if we have made a bit more progress.

I feel particularly badly for the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead because, when the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) was asked what Labour’s plan was, she said that her Front-Bench colleagues would address that in their remarks. We waited with bated breath for the moment when they would address the question of what the plan was or what taxes would fund it. I can tell you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that it will need a lot more than £12 billion of health and social care funding to repair the damage from that hospital pass from the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green.

Catherine West 

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, as he mentioned me. The UK economy has seen enormous asset price bubbles, yet not much appears to be getting back from those who have made quite a lot of money over the years through real estate. Why is he taking more money from working people instead of those who have gained enormous amounts—millions—from the asset bubble?

Jesse Norman 

I am desperately sad, because I thought the hon. Lady was going to answer my questions about Labour’s plan or the taxation for it. Of course, we would expect people earning that income to pay property and income taxes in the proper way, and, if they are receiving dividends, their tax will go up as a result of the changes that we have made. [Interruption.] I am asked on what basis I say that. It is on the basis of a distribution analysis of the overall package of measures published by the Treasury in the last week, which is available for all Members to read and consult. If they do, they will see that this is a very redistributive package, with the highest-income 20% of households contributing 40 times that of the poorest 20% of households. It is a genuinely progressive policy, and the distribution analysis makes that clear.

Paul Holmes (Eastleigh) (Con)

I do not think that the Minister will mind me saying that he has served in the House for slightly longer than me. In his time, has he ever known a situation in which the Labour party—a supposed party of the NHS—has voted against billions of pounds of investment in the NHS?

Jesse Norman 

It is a desperate shame that the Labour party has decided to take this party political position, because this area above all is one where we would expect it to back its own policy priorities. I remind the House that these measures are more progressive than the national insurance contribution rise of 2003 for which Labour Members enthusiastically voted, yet they are not supporting them. I find that extraordinary—[Interruption.] I am asked where my plan is. It is written down, and it is called “Build Back Better: Our Plan for Health and Social Care” That is a plan. The void that exists on the Opposition side is not just a void of a plan but a void of a tax package to pay for it.

Colleagues throughout the House have made the right and proper suggestion and implored the Government to look carefully at how the funds that we are raising can be appropriately spent. We must be careful about that. No Conservative wants to raise taxes, and indeed no Conservative would like to waste money. I want hon. Members to understand that Ministers very much take that on board. As hon. Members will know, we have a health and social care plan coming forward in a White Paper, and legislation is in place to put it on the statute book. That is the position.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker) and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Kim Johnson) rightly made a point about younger people and support for care workers. Of course, we have not just the already published plan for jobs but £500 million of new money pledged to support social care workers, including through new qualifications, progression, and wellbeing and mental health support. That is an important part of what we are doing.

There was one Opposition Member who had genuine ideas for taxation that would support social care: the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge). She presented a whole raft of ideas. I do not accept the ideas she put forward, for different reasons, and I think the proposal that the Government have put forward is superior as a single, broad-based package of measures that has this progressive, distributional effect, but she came forward with ideas. What a void, what an emptiness, what a vacuity sat around her from the Labour Front Bench and from the rest of her party. I congratulate her on at least trying to answer the question put by the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead that politics involves choices; and what was the choice? The right hon. Member for Barking gave us one.

In doing so, however, I think the right hon. Lady erred. There has been some discussion about the tax information and impact note that the Treasury put out last week. Let us be perfectly clear: that is a technical document that relates only to this levy. It does not relate to the overall effect of the package of measures that it funds; macroeconomically, we expect that overall effect to be broadly economically neutral. That is the picture we are presenting, so just to look at the tax side, as the right hon. Lady did, is I am afraid to miss half the point of it. The point was made very well by Ben Broadbent, a member of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England. He said that

“one should not ignore one half of that policy announcement as far as the effects on the economy concerned”,

and he was absolutely right about that. So what we have is a balanced policy: we have a health and social care plan with a funding package that the House is considering at the moment.

Let me talk a little more about colleagues. I very much support the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning) about the concern that other Members across this House have about the increase in pay at hospital trusts and in some parts of the NHS. That is a matter of concern, and we have to be absolutely clear that that money is being properly spent in the NHS and across hospital trusts. It is a very strong concern of my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary, because he—like us, like me—is concerned to support not just our NHS, but the taxpayer in making sure that that money is properly spent.

I very much supported the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Andrew Griffith) when he celebrated the adult social care workforce. He was absolutely right to do that, and I hope he will be pleased at the £500 million that we have mentioned in that regard.

May I remind the House that, in grasping this nettle, the Government have not just moved forward on an issue that has been outstanding before this House for many years, but have shown how inadequate the Labour party response was to its own royal commission of 1999, from which, as we can see, virtually no social care—no enduring social care—package followed? If you do not like that, Mr Deputy Speaker, let me direct you to the Wanless report of 2006, on the basis of which no sustainable social care package was developed. That situation is changing now. This Government are putting that sustainable social care funding in place. We are doing it with a levy that tracks many other countries that have social care levies in place. This is a progressive, long-term way to address a problem that has remained in front of us, but unaddressed, for far too long, and I commend this measure to the House.