Boris Johnson's health and social care plans are nowhere near good enough – Christine Jardine MP

When the Prime Minister stood on the steps of 10 Downing Street and told us he had an oven-ready plan to fix the crisis in social care, I am sure there were families up and down the country who heaved a sigh of relief.

Boris Johnson is making the poorest people pay for the economic impact of the Covid pandemic and Brexit (Picture: Paul Grover/Daily Telegraph/PA)

The increased UK funding in Scotland which stemmed from it would stimulate improvement here too. Both the NHS and social care could be rejuvenated. And he would keep to his promise of no new taxes.

But the belief, the hope, didn’t last long. The plan that was revealed last week doesn’t live up to the hype. The overwhelming emotion for many of us now is disappointment.

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Instead of a game-changing plan for wholesale investment in a system that was crying out for help even before the pandemic, we have a half-baked notion.

And to pay for it, an unfair and unbalanced hike in National Insurance across the UK.

As the economic impact of the combination of Covid-19 and Brexit begins to bite, this government is going to take the lion’s share of funding from those already hardest hit.

Even then it fails to address the enormous issues in the system. There are a million-and-a-half people not receiving the care they deserve. Staff are underpaid and over-worked because there are 120,000 jobs that are not being taken up in the social care sector.

Unpaid carers are exhausted and need the respect of the state. There is a backlog of NHS waiting lists which threatens every day to deny people lifesaving treatment in time.

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We desperately need a solution if we are to maintain the welfare state’s pledge of cradle-to-grave care, free at the point of delivery, for another generation.

This government’s plan solves none of those issues.

Where is the carefully costed, detailed explanation of what will be spent on the NHS backlog and what will be invested in our social care system? One mustn’t be at the cost of the other.

There is a better way to deliver for a system that was already in crisis before Covid-19 and Brexit. A crisis which transcends, or at least should transcend, party politics.

The Liberal Democrats have repeatedly called on the government to hold cross-party talks to find the best plan to fix social care.

We have been more than willing to play our part.

And we know it can be done because we did it when the Liberal Democrats were in government.

We built a cross-party agreement through the Dilnot Commission and the Care Act, based on the same values that underpin our NHS.

After the 2015 election, the Conservatives ripped up that agreement.

Instead they are now pressing ahead with a scheme that places a huge burden on low earners and small businesses with little real return.

Has it completely escaped their notice that many of those who will be hit hardest by this tax hike are frontline NHS and social care workers? Then there are other public sector workers, police and fire officers.

As for business, this comes at the worst possible time when – as the Federation of Small Businesses points out – they are still trying to recover from the impact of the pandemic.

The Chamber of Commerce estimates that one in five businesses could be looking at redundancies in October and the latest figures show that our economy is far from out of the woods.

So the government will end support, stop furlough, remove the Universal Credit uplift and then hit people with more costs while many of them are struggling to get out from under the debt that the pandemic has created.

“We haven’t stopped helping people,” the Chancellor said. It is a funny way of showing it.

What they have shown us is that this government, this Prime Minister, this Chancellor are out of touch with ordinary families, small businesses, front-line health and care staff and what their realities are.

Is the pandemic an excuse for breaking promises? If they offered something better, perhaps. But they haven’t.

This is a moment in our history when the people of this country most need a government they can depend on, that is as good as its word.

If we are to have a system that cares for all people, we need to respect all people, regardless of their income, their background or the size of their house.

April 2022 is when we will all start paying for this new arrangement yet nobody will benefit until October 2023. What about the people who are in care now or will enter care in those intervening 18 months?

And “what about Scotland?”, the nationalists are already shouting. Well, we do actually stand to benefit to the tune of more than £1 billion.

But I was confused by their reaction in Westminster which seems to be more about complaining that the UK government – which is our government – is interfering in health and social care rather than the unfairness of the tax.

Many of us in Scotland, already paying more in income tax than the rest of the UK, thanks to the SNP, would welcome that intervention if it fixed the problem.

It will be interesting to see whether they continue to complain or opt instead for taking the credit for any extra spending. More party politics rather than genuine concern.

And that is the most disappointing aspect of all. What could have been a massive turning point in reinventing health and social care for the 21st century, of cross-party collaboration, has been missed.

The Prime Minister told the country on the steps of No 10 he would fix it. He has not.

Christine Jardine is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West

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