Labour will reinstate 45% top rate of tax to expand NHS workforce, Reeves says

Elliot Chappell

Rachel Reeves has said that Labour would reinstate the 45% top rate of income tax to fund “the biggest expansion of medical school places in British history doubling the number of places so we have the doctors we need in our NHS”.

Addressing delegates to Labour’s 2022 annual party conference in Liverpool this afternoon, the Shadow Chancellor declared that the country needs “strong, sustainable public finances alongside strong, sustainable public services”.

“Strong public services are the foundation of a strong society. We owe everything to those who work in our NHS. But we also know, that our health service today is on its knees. It is a social priority, and it is an economic priority,” Reeves said.

The Conservatives announced in their ‘mini-Budget’ last week that the government would be scrapping the top rate of income tax, alongside abandoning the planned rise in corporation tax, slashing stamp duty and the cap on bankers’ bonuses.

Reeves said that Labour’s “priority is not tax cuts for the wealthiest few” but “securing our public finances and investing in public services”. She added: “With a Labour government, those at the top will pay their fair share.”

She told conference that Labour in government would use the money raised by reversing the abolition of 45% top rate of income tax to “double the number of district nurses qualifying every year train more than 5,000 new health visitors and create an additional 10,000 nursing and midwife placements every year”.

She added: “More than that: We will implement the biggest expansion of medical school places in British history doubling the number of places so we have the doctors we need in our NHS.

“It will fall to us to fix the damage the Tories have done. We have done it before and, conference we will do it again.”

Government figures show that the total cost to the economy of ill-health that prevents working-age people from working is around £100bn per year. 53% of people who need elective procedures are of working age.

According to analysis by the Resolution Foundation, the Tories’ mini-Budget will leave an individual earning £200,000 per year £5,220 better off next year, rising to £55,220 for a £1m earner. Those earning £20,000 a year will gain just £157.

Labour’s Jonathan Reynolds said on Sunday that the Tories have nothing to offer but the “same old trickle down bullshit” as he accused Liz Truss of taking the low bar set by Boris Johnson and having “pushed it through the floor”.

Reeves also used her conference speech this afternoon to set out plans for new green infrastructure including “clean” steel plants, battery factories and “renewable ready” ports funded through a ‘national wealth fund’ amounting to £8bn.

Below is the full text of the speech delivered by Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves to Labour’s 2022 annual conference in Liverpool this afternoon.

Thank you, conference. It is a privilege to stand here as your Shadow Chancellor, under Keir Starmer’s leadership. But I know what a responsibility this is too. We are facing a national emergency. Energy prices, up. The cost of the weekly food shop, up. People’s wages not keeping up.

On Friday, the Chancellor had an opportunity to set out a serious response to the cost-of-living crisis. And he failed. What did we get instead? A tax cut for the wealthiest one percent. Increased bankers’ bonuses. And more than £50bn piled onto the national debt every single year, because of their reckless decision to put all the costs onto borrowing.

They didn’t just break their own fiscal rules for the tenth time in 12 years. In one go, they borrowed more than in any budget since 1972, with inflation already high, and interest rates already rising. The message from financial markets was clear on Friday and this morning that message is even more stark: Sterling is down. That means higher prices as the costs of imports rise. The cost of government borrowing is up, that means more taxpayers’ money will go into paying the interest on government debt. And in turn, that means the cost of borrowing for working people will now go up too, with higher mortgage repayments for families.

And all for what? Not to invest in the industries of the future. Not for our NHS. Not for our schools. But for tax cuts for the wealthiest. A return to a trickle-down idea that has been tried, has been tested, and has failed. Why should my constituents in Leeds West pay for tax cuts for those who are already the wealthiest? It’s not what anyone voted for. It’s putting our economy in danger. And Labour will fight it every step of the way.

Let me tell you what I believe: I believe that hard work should be met with fair reward. I believe that strong public services are the backbone of any decent society. I believe that inequality divides and holds us back as a country. I believe that the task of building a fairer society is a moral responsibility. And more than that: it is the route to a stronger economy. That truth is at the heart of Labour’s plans for growth. Today, I want to tell you why.

Last April, on a cold spring evening, I knocked on the door of a pensioner in my constituency. When I reached out to shake her hand, it was purple and freezing cold. Already back then, she was afraid to put the heating on, struggling to get by on the small pension that she had built up through a lifetime of work. As energy bills and inflation rise even higher, I often think of her. That is the stark reality facing people all around our country today.

While the Prime Minister spent months denying the need for action on energy prices, Labour was calling for a freeze on the energy price cap. Labour was calling for an end to the indefensible premium paid by families with pre-payment meters. And crucially, Labour was calling for a windfall tax on the unimaginable profits being made by oil and gas companies, so that working people didn’t have to foot the bill.

But the Prime Minister is content to let energy giants pocket the cash, and leave your children and your grandchildren to pick up the tab. Under these Tories, those with the broadest shoulders carry the lightest load. And not by accident, but by choice. It is time for a government that is on your side, and that government is a Labour government.

The effects of Putin’s war have reverberated around the world, and we will not waver in our support for Ukraine. The causes of this crisis are global. But our unique exposure to rising energy prices is a result of the choices of Conservative governments. Inaction on insulating homes. Inaction on nuclear and renewable energy. And the sheer irresponsibility of closing our gas storage facilities. We are feeling the consequences of a 12-year Tory experiment, in unilateral energy disarmament. And what’s their answer? Lifting the ban on fracking. Fracking is dangerous. It is bad for the planet. It won’t even reduce our bills. And with Labour it will not happen.

Here is our alternative. Our green prosperity plan, to provide the only sustainable solution to the energy crisis. To free ourselves from dependence on Russia. To invest in solar, in wind, in tidal, in hydrogen, and in nuclear power. And to pass onto our children a fairer and a greener country. This is a moral responsibility. And it’s an economic necessity.

On climate change, the costs of inaction today will mean far greater costs tomorrow. I refuse to leave our children to pick up the pieces of our failure. I will be a responsible Chancellor. I will be Britain’s first green Chancellor. Ed Miliband has just set out how the next Labour government will cut energy bills for good by generating all of our electricity from clean sources by 2030. But our green prosperity plan is about something else too: it is about economic growth. Because British businesses are falling behind in a global race for new industries. And that matters.

It matters that the largest offshore wind farm in Scotland has its blades made not in Scotland but thousands of miles away. It matters that the rest of Europe is powering ahead with electric battery factories, and we are stuck in the slow lane. It matters that Germany, France, and the US are making the running with green hydrogen but we are not. We have the ability. But we want the jobs here. We want the factories here. And we want British businesses to take the lead.

Here is the deal: the next Labour government will create a national wealth fund, so that when we invest in new industries. In partnership with business, the British people will own a share of that wealth, and the taxpayer will get a return on that investment. Wealth flowing from jobs in electric battery factories, in the West Midlands, the North East, the North West, and the South West. Offshore wind driving investment in our ports: from the Humber to Southampton, East Anglia to Belfast. Clean steel with jobs in Rotherham, Sheffield, Scunthorpe, Cardiff, and Port Talbot. And carbon capture and storage in our industrial heartlands, in Grangemouth and in South Wales, in Humber and in Teesside, and here in Merseyside too.

Because when I say I want to buy, make, and sell more in Britain, I mean it. What you will see in your town, in your city, with Labour is a sight we have not seen often enough in our country. Cranes going up, shovels in the ground. The sounds and the sights of the future arriving. Secure, skilled jobs, for plumbers, electricians, and joiners, for designers, scientists, and engineers.

Wealth that will flow back into your community and onto your high street. Wealth that the British people will own a stake in. Wealth that is invested in our country’s future. That is a real plan for the climate. That is a real plan for growth. And that is a real plan for levelling up. A zero-carbon economy – made right here. Made in Britain. It is time for a government that is on your side, and that government is a Labour government.

And what about the Tories? Six different plans for growth in twelve years, each announced to great fanfare. Each making no difference. A library of failure. They’ve had 12 years. Have they got growth up? No. Have they got inflation down? No. Have they got child poverty down? No. Have they got NHS waiting lists down? No. Have they even got the debt and deficit down? No. It’s 12 years of failure.

And now? They have replaced ‘levelling up’ with ‘trickle down’. An economic philosophy inadequate to a modern world, and a moral philosophy inadequate to a decent society. Trickle-down economics is a very simple idea. That if we just slash taxes and regulation, we will ‘unleash’ business investment and growth. That how wealth is shared doesn’t matter. That vast gaps between people and places are of no importance. That workers’ rights, consumer protections and strong public services are all worth sacrificing. That wealth is only created by a few people and a few businesses. It is why at the same time that ministers lecture low-paid workers about showing restraint, they can’t restrain themselves from removing the cap on bankers’ bonuses.

I dare any Tory MP to tell a nurse or a care worker to their face, that what our country really needs right now is bigger bonuses for bankers. Trickle down is a very simple idea – and a very wrong one. Not just wrong because it isn’t fair. Wrong too because it doesn’t work. Trickle down is wrong because how wealth is shared does matter to growth. High inequality strangles the spending power of working people, it piles its social costs onto our public services, and it suffocates potential. Trickle down is wrong because, in a turbulent world, businesses need government as a partner. Trickle down is wrong because strong institutions and robust public finances provide the foundations for a strong economy. And trickle down is wrong, because a strong economy needs strong public services. We will defeat the failed ideas of the past, with the focus, the ambition, and the ideas for the future.

Here’s the truth: wealth doesn’t trickle from the top down. It comes from the bottom up, and the middle out. From the talent and the effort of tens of millions of ordinary people, and from thousands of businesses. Our economy needs the most productive, most high-tech businesses to thrive in Britain. And we all rely on what I call the everyday economy, on transport workers and delivery drivers, our supermarket and retail workers, our NHS and care workers. Don’t let anyone tell you that they are not wealth creators too.

They are key to our security as a society. And yet too many of them are among the most insecure. Overworked. Underpaid. Undervalued. The Tories’ trickle-down ideology has nothing to offer them, beyond longer hours, lower pay, and less respect. Earlier this year, I met a young family in Worthing. A mum and dad, working five jobs between them, struggling to make ends meet, constantly juggling work and childcare. As a family, they only get half a day a week together. They felt that any hope of buying their own home had evaporated. Good people, working hard.

And do you know what the mum said to me? She said: “You just wonder if you’re doing something wrong.” Something is profoundly wrong. And let’s be clear, Liz Truss: we’ve not fallen behind our neighbours, on growth, on productivity, and on pay, because British workers lack ‘graft’. It’s not working people that are the problem. It’s this government that is the problem.

I’ll tell you what a growing economy needs. Rising wages, so that money flows back into vibrant high streets. Parents with the time to thrive at work and spend time with their children. Families with enough savings to weather a storm. And people feeling the confidence to take risks, to change career, to learn new skills, or to start a business. So, with Labour, there will be no bonfire of workers’ rights as the Tories intend. As Angela Rayner announced, we will introduce a new deal for working people, with strengthened rights fit for the times we are in.

And that’s not all. On day one as Chancellor, I will write to the Low Pay Commission, with a simple instruction: that the minimum wage will be set at a level that reflects the real cost of living. The last Labour government delivered Britain’s first national minimum wage. The next Labour government will introduce a genuine living wage. That’s how we will give working people respect. That’s how we will give working people security. And that’s how we will grow our economy too. It is time for a government that is on your side. And that government is a Labour government.

Here’s another thing about growing a 21st century economy: it is no longer enough – if it ever was – for government to simply get out of the way. The challenges of global instability, of pandemics, wars and climate crisis, demand that government works in partnership with business. If I were Chancellor right now, I would bring together a national economic council that will bring together industry and trade unions, so working people and businesses were at the heart of economic decision making.

I have been privileged to visit businesses across our country. From Rolls Royce in Derby – pioneering research into carbon neutral aviation, to Oxford Nanopore – leading work on DNA and RNA sequencing. Right through to local businesses, like Castleton Mill – once a key part of West Yorkshire’s textiles industry, and now a collaborative space for freelancers, remote workers and start-ups.

The world is changing fast but the British capacity for enterprise, for innovation, and for hard work remains undimmed. When I talk to businesses, they don’t tell me that their priority is corporation tax. They tell me about the need for properly targeted investment allowances, the need for workers equipped with the right skills, the need for certainty and a sense of direction from government, and yes – the need for a sensible working relationship with our European neighbours.

So we will take those issues head on. Starting with the biggest tax problem facing British businesses. Our unfair, outdated system of business rates punishes high street businesses to the advantage of online giants. So Labour will level the playing field. We will abolish business rates, and replace them with a fairer system fit for the 21st century. That new system will mean that businesses would get revaluation discounts straight away, rather than waiting years for their money back.

And here’s more. Today, Jonathan Reynolds launched our modern industrial strategy, that recognises the importance of businesses at the high-tech frontier and of our everyday economy. It sets out a mission to make our economy more secure. We will use all powers at government’s disposal to buy, make and sell more here in Britain. We will make Britain the best place to start and to grow a business, guided by the work of our start-up review, headed by Lord Jim O’Neill. And we will give our nations and regions, mayors and local leaders, right across Britain, the tools to shape their own future.

In Labour-run Wales, under Mark Drakeford, in our city regions, and all around the country, we are seeing the difference that Labour can make in power. And Steve Rotheram thank you for the leadership you show here in Merseyside. If you are remotely serious about growth, then you have got to make Brexit work. Our agriculture and our food industries rely on trade right across Europe, but we have a deal which doesn’t even include a veterinary agreement.

We are pioneers in creative industries, but we have a deal which ties them in knots over visas. We are the second largest exporter of services in the world, but we have a deal that doesn’t include the mutual recognition of professional qualifications. So we will fix the holes in the government’s patchwork Brexit deal. And instead of picking needless fights with our largest trading partner, we will work together with our neighbours and allies, in our national interest.

That is Labour’s approach: proudly pro-worker and proudly pro-business. Supporting innovation. Sharing opportunity. Reviving our high streets. It is time for a government that is on your side, and that government is a Labour government.

I am proud to have started my career as an economist at the Bank of England. Its operational independence is an enduring contribution by the last Labour government to Britain’s financial stability. Growth and social justice must be built on the firmest of foundations. Yet this government has undermined the Bank’s independence, sacked the respected Permanent Secretary to the Treasury, and gagged the Office for Budget Responsibility.

The Chancellor and the Prime Minister, meanwhile, resemble two desperate gamblers in a casino, chasing a losing run. But they’re not gambling with their money, they’re gambling with yours. They’ve lost credibility they’re losing confidence, they’re out of control. I have said this before, and be in no doubt: there can be no return to austerity. It has left our country poorer, our public services at breaking point, and our public finances in tatters.

I make this promise to you: Labour will not waver in our commitment to fiscal responsibility. That is why I set out the fiscal rules for the next Labour government a year ago. Every policy that Labour announces – and every line in our manifesto – will be carefully costed and fully funded. Last year, I told this conference that I was more than happy to take on the Tories on economic competence, because I know we can win. I’m now wondering if they even plan to turn up for the fight. It is becoming clearer by the day that Labour is the party of economic responsibility and the party of social justice. It is time for a government that is on your side, and that government is a Labour government.

We need a growing economy to pay for modern, sustainable public services. But a growing economy needs strong public services too. This is personal to me. My mum and dad were primary school teachers. I’m really proud of that. My sister Ellie and I used to play for hours in my dad’s classroom, while he worked late into the evening, because he wanted to give the kids he taught the best start in life. All in the face of Conservative governments hostile to the very idea of public service. I went to school under those governments. I remember what that was like.

It is why I joined this party. And it is why I am here today. Strong public services are the foundation of a strong society. And we owe everything to those who work in our NHS. But we also know, that our health service today is on its knees. It is a social priority. And it is an economic priority. In the last three years, half a million people have left the labour market, more than half of those due to long-term illness. So – as Keir Starmer announced a year ago, we will guarantee access to mental health treatment within a month to anyone who needs it.

Here’s more. We need strong, sustainable public finances alongside strong, sustainable public services, so our priority is not tax cuts for the wealthiest few. It is securing our public finances and investing in public services. I can tell you: with a Labour government, those at the top will pay their fair share. The 45p top rate of income tax is coming back. Here’s what we will do with that money.

The next Labour government will double the number of district nurses qualifying every year, train more than 5,000 new health visitors, and create an additional 10,000 nursing and midwife placements every year. More than that we will implement the biggest expansion of medical school places in British history, doubling the number of medical students, so our NHS has the doctors it needs. It will fall to us to fix the damage the Tories have done. We have done it before, we will do it again.

Know that these are Labour’s priorities. Strong public services, to support people, and grow our economy. A greener, fairer Britain, with jobs for people in Britain, industries owned by the people of Britain, profits shared by the people of Britain. Pro-business and pro-worker for a stronger economy, where you do well. Because when you do well, Britain does well. Hope and opportunity, whoever you are, wherever you live. That is Labour’s vision for Britain. That is what we are fighting for. It’s time for a government that is on your side. That government is a Labour government. And be in no doubt, that government is on its way.

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