Starmer on levy: “We need to ask those with broadest shoulders to pay more”

Keir Starmer
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Below is the full text of Keir Starmer’s response in the House of Commons to the government statement on the new health and social care levy.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. And thank you to the Prime Minister for advance sight of his statement. I think I had almost as much notice as his cabinet.

Can I thank everybody who works in the NHS and social care? During the darkest days of the pandemic they kept our health service from collapsing. They looked after the elderly when others couldn’t. And they rolled out the vaccine that has finally provided light at the end of the tunnel.

Despite their efforts, we are facing the toughest winter in the history of our health service. Not only do we have the threat of another Covid surge.

The waiting lists for diagnosis and treatment have reached record levels. And we risk cancer survival rates going backwards for the first time ever. Social care remains neglected and strained. It is a crisis. How did we get here?

This pandemic has undoubtedly placed the NHS under huge strain. But that is only a part of the story. A decade of Conservative neglect weakened the NHS. Waiting lists had spiralled. Up two million. Before the pandemic targets were missed: on cancer, on A&E, and on mental health. All before the pandemic.

And the same is true of social care – £8bn cut despite growing demand. Before the pandemic. Carers on poverty wages, without secure contracts. Before the pandemic. Over 100,000 vacancies. Before the pandemic.

So the Prime Minister is not here just because of the pandemic. He is here putting a sticking plaster over a gaping wound which his party inflicted. And that sticking plaster will not hold.

The NHS urgently needs more investment. But where is the plan to bring waiting lists down? The NHS backlog will not be cleared until his government hits the 18-week target set out in the NHS constitution. Set and met by the last Labour government.

Can the Prime Minister commit to hitting the target and clearing the backlog by the end of this parliament? I know he likes to avoid questions. But if he can’t answer this basic question, it is clear he has no plan.

Turning to social care. Under these proposals, people will still face substantial costs. So, can the Prime Minister guarantee that under his plan no one will have to sell their own home to fund their own care?

But social care is about so much more than this. The blunt and uncomfortable truth is that under the Prime Minister’s plan: the quality of care will not improve, people will still go without the care that they need.

Unpaid family carers will still be pushed to breaking point. Working age adults with disabilities will have no more control over their lives. Pay and conditions will not improve for care workers.

Let me spell that out. A poorly paid care worker will pay more tax for the care they are providing without a penny more in their pay packet or a secure contract.

A tax rise that breaks a promise that the Prime Minister made at the last election. A promise that that they all made at the last election. A tax rise on young people, supermarket workers and nurses.

A tax rise which means a landlord renting out dozens of properties wouldn’t pay a penny more, but their tenants working full time jobs would. A tax rise that will place another burden on business just as they are trying to get back on their feet. Read my lips. The Tories can never again claim to be the party of low tax.

The alternative is obvious. We need a timetable and plan to clear waiting lists. Just as we did under the last Labour government. We need a comprehensive reform plan for social care driving up the quality of provision, and not just tinkering with the funding model.

We do need to ask those with the broadest shoulders to pay more, including asking much more of wealthier people with income from stocks and shares, dividends or property. Tinkering and fiddling with the dividend rate won’t do that.

Instead, the government are placing the primary burden on working people and businesses struggling to get by. As I have said to the Prime Minister, if the government comes forward with a plan that genuinely fixes the crisis in social care and has a fair funding model, then we can work together. The thousands of families struggling with the current system who only want to do the best for their loved ones, deserve nothing less.

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