Council leader backs government’s £36bn fix for health and social care

Carl Les, leader of North Yorkshire County Council.

The leader of North Yorkshire County Council has backed the government’s manifesto-breaking move to raise National Insurance by 1.25 percentage points to tackle NHS Covid backlogs and reform the social care system.

Conservative councillor Carl Les said the plan, which also includes capping care costs at £86,000, gave assurances that families won’t lose massive amounts of money due to relatives needing care and also showed the government was willing to tackle deep-rooted issues in the sectors.

However, some critics have said the plan does not go far enough, with social care leaders warning the money raised will be “too little, too late” as they struggle with staff shortages and surging demand for people needing care.

Councillor Les said: “We welcome the publication of the plan and I’m pleased that the government is tackling this issue.

“The measures announced will start to address the issue of uncertainty around care costs for individuals and families.

“However, we need to see more detailed proposals about the government’s plans for stabilising care provision and investing in the workforce.

“Adult social care is vitally important to our residents and to the council.

“The service accounts for nearly 50% of our budget, and we need to support the sector while it works through its numerous challenges.”

Announcing the plan on Tuesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the tax rise would raise £36bn for the NHS and social care in the next three years, but accepted it broke a manifesto promise.

He described the plan as “reasonable and fair” and said the majority of the funds would go towards increasing hospital capacity to catch up on backlogs created by Covid.

Some of the money – £5.4bn over the next three years – will also go towards changes to the social care system.

But there has been anger from some care leaders who say more immediate support is needed to address the current crisis in the sector.

Mike Padgham, chairman of the Independent Care Group, which provides services in North Yorkshire and York, said the plan failed to address the staffing situation and is a “huge opportunity missed for radical, once in a generation reform of the social care system”.

He also said the amount promised “isn’t going to touch the crisis in the sector and will certainly not address the 120,000 vacancies in staffing, which is sending the sector into meltdown on a daily basis as care providers struggle to cover shifts.”

Mr Padgham said: “It will not fund the proper recruitment and training of the thousands of staff we need, nor will it allow the sector to properly reward those staff who have played such a vital, life-saving role during Covid-19.

“It is too little and, it looks like being, too late.”

The new tax will begin as a 1.25 percentage points rise in National Insurance from next April, paid by both employers and workers, and will then become a separate tax on earned income from 2023.

This will cost an extra £130 a year for someone earning £20,000, £505 more for someone on £50,000, and £1,130 extra for someone earning £100,000, the government said.

Under the plans to fix social care, people will no longer pay more than £86,000 in care costs – not including food and accommodation – over their lifetime, from October 2023

Once people have reached this cap, ongoing costs for personal care will be paid for by local councils.

In North Yorkshire, the Harrogate district is the most expensive area to get care for loved ones with the average weekly cost of residential care this year reaching £1,055 and the same figure for nursing climbing to £1,061.

Over a one year period, this can equate to more than £55,000.

The government’s announcement to cap these costs comes at a time when the social care sector is in the midst of a staffing crisis and battling with a long backlog of people needing to be assessed for care.

Richard Webb, director of health and adult services at North Yorkshire County Council, last month said the sector was facing “unrelenting” pressures and that it had reached “tipping point” with a 70% drop in applications for the around 1,000 jobs currently vacant.

He said the NHS had also not escaped the staffing problems which existed before the pandemic but have only been exacerbated by the virus outbreak.

The staffing situation also only looks set to only worsen when compulsory vaccines for care workers come into force on 11 November.

From this date, it will become a legal requirement for all staff working in care homes to be fully vaccinated against Covid – unless they are exempt – in order to protect the elderly and vulnerable residents most at risk from the virus.

In North Yorkshire, it has been estimated that around 500 workers could be forced out of their jobs because of this unless more staff come forward for their vaccines.

Announcing the tax hike on Tuesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “No Conservative government wants to raise taxes, but nor could we in good conscience meet the cost of this plan simply by borrowing the money.

“This new levy will break our manifesto commitment, but a global pandemic wasn’t in our manifesto either.

“After everything we’ve spent to protect people through that crisis, we cannot now shirk the challenge of putting the NHS back on its feet, which requires fixing the problem of social care, and investing the money needed.”