My (increasingly vast) postbag gives a pretty good sample of views at least here in North Wiltshire. There has been a very broad spectrum with regard to this week’s big story- the 1.25% increase in National Insurance which will be used first to allow the NHS to recover from the Pandemic and catch up on the backlog; and thereafter to reform the way in which long term care is paid for.
There are some purists who point out that this is a breach of the Tory Party Manifesto, to which I would respond: “Yes- but the Covid Pandemic was not in the Manifesto either.” There are some who make the point, with which I have a great deal of sympathy, that the Tory Party should be the Party of low taxation. It was therefore with gritted teeth that I went against my own native instinct to vote in favour of the biggest tax rises by a Tory Government certainly in my lifetime. But then again, our Manifesto commitment to sort out long-term care costs must be achieved; and the Pandemic is analogous to a war in terms of how we pay for it.
There are others who argue that it does not go far enough- that the floor and cap mechanism being introduced to try to prevent you having to sell your home to pay for long term care is too low; and there are plenty of others who would like it to become effective now, which I fear will not be possible. There are those who argue that all social care should be paid for by HMG, although few of them have any idea of how to pay for it; there are those who advance radical ideas about reforming the NHS and the care system; and there are those who argue that using the unearned equity in our houses to pay for our care in old age is not unreasonable. Counter-intuitively the younger generation seem to favour that while the older letter writers are determined to pass on their - largely property based- wealth to their children.
The fact that the debate is happening and that the views are so polar shows both how difficult it is to find a solution to these two allied problems; and also how important it is that we should do so.
Meanwhile, we rely - to some degree at least - on charitable and volunteer forces to carry much of the weight of looking after our health and wellbeing. I was very proud this week to welcome the St John Ambulance to a reception in Parliament to thank them for all they have done in the Pandemic; and it was good to have Sajid Javid, Nadhim Zahawi and Sir Keir Starmer all speaking at it. I also raised it at PMQs and got a very warm response from the PM. I am an honorary Commander of St John and spent Wednesday afternoon in their HQ to reiterating the PM’s thanks and appreciation for the million hours of training and tens of thousands of vaccinators and Ambulance and First Aid personnel they have provided to combat the Pandemic.
The health and wellbeing of the Nation - from cradle to grave – and how we pay for it, is a huge and complex, controversial and opinionated, creative topic. No-one has any kind of monopoly of wisdom on it. But what cannot be gainsaid is that those who volunteer like the St John Ambulance; together with the NHS and military professionals who have done so much for all of us must be saluted and thanked for it.