PM considering raising National Insurance to fund social care reforms – but proposals won’t come until after summer
Boris Johnson is looking at raising National Insurance in order to fund long-promised reforms of social care, but any proposals won’t be set out until after the summer.
This has made getting final agreement on the reforms more difficult.
According to The Times, National Insurance payments for businesses and employees will rise by 1 percentage point, a penny in the pound, to fund the changes.
The move will generate an extra £10bn annually, its report added.
Any tax rise would prove controversial however, as the Conservatives committed in their 2019 general election manifesto not to raise income tax, VAT or National Insurance.
The Sun reported that the prime minister and Chancellor Rishi Sunak are “close” to agreeing the National Insurance rise.
Speaking at a regular Westminster briefing for journalists, the PM’s spokesman did not deny the reports.
“There’s continued speculation but I’m simply not going to be engaged with that speculation,” he said.
“The process for agreeing our proposals is still ongoing. We will set that out before the end of the year.”
Speaking on Monday, the PM said it “won’t be too long now” before he lays out his plans for changing the system.
Mr Johnson promised to “fix the crisis in social care once and for all with a clear plan we have prepared” when he addressed the nation outside Downing Street after becoming PM in 2019.
He told a news conference that the issue of what to do with social care had “bedevilled governments for at least three decades”.
“All I can say is we’ve waited three decades, you’re just going to have to wait a little bit longer,” he said on Monday.
“I’m sorry about that but it won’t be too long now, I assure you.”
Speaking to Sky News earlier, business minister Paul Scully said he did not recognise reports about a rise in National Insurance to fund social care.
“Well, I’ve read about the speculation this morning, that’s not something I recognise, so, you know, we’ll see what happens in terms of when we announce our details on social care,” he told Kay Burley.
Mr Scully added: “What we do want to happen is to make sure that we can come up with a comprehensive programme to tackle social care.
“It’s been around for a long time this issue, and we really do need to get to grips with it, and that’s what the prime minister and the health secretary are really determined to do.”
Labour’s shadow economic secretary Pat McFadden said paying for social care must be fair to all income groups and all ages.
“There’s been a social care problem in the country for many, many years. We know we’ve got to fix it, the COVID pandemic has shown us the problems in the system, and we understand that’s got to be paid for,” he said.
“And again, with a tax proposal, which has been briefed to one or two newspapers, the best way to judge it is on two criteria.
“One: does it really fix the problem in social care? And secondly, is it fair to people of all ages, and all income groups?”
Professor Len Shackleton, editorial and research fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs think tank, said raising National Insurance would be “yet another burden on working age people at a time when jobs are insecure, inflation is rising and wages are squeezed”.
He said: “Much of the public may believe that National Insurance pays for the NHS, and social care would just be a natural addition. But NI is not ringfenced and is simply an income tax by another name, albeit with different exemptions, starting points and arbitrary changes in rates which don’t coincide with tax bands.
“It is wrong to place the burden of this tax squarely on the shoulders of younger workers, without extending NI to post-state pension age taxpayers to help pay.”
Christmas rail strikes to go ahead as union rejects offer from operators
The RMT has rejected an offer from train operators aimed at preventing strikes over the Christmas period, the union has announced.
The Rail Delivery Group (RDG) said its proposed framework would have supported pay increases of up to 8%, covering 2022 and 2023 pay awards, while delivering much-needed reforms.
But the RMT, led by secretary general Mick Lynch, has turned it down.
The union said: “The RDG is offering 4% in 2022 and 2023 which is conditional on RMT members accepting vast changes to working practices, huge job losses, Driver Only Operated (DOO) trains on all companies and the closure of all ticket offices.”
Mr Lynch added: “We have rejected this offer as it does not meet any of our criteria for securing a settlement on long term job security, a decent pay rise and protecting working conditions.
“The RDG and Department for Transport (DfT), who sets their mandate, both knew this offer would not be acceptable to RMT members.
“If this plan was implemented, it would not only mean the loss of thousands of jobs but the use of unsafe practices such as DOO and would leave our railways chronically understaffed.”
RMT has demanded an urgent meeting with RDG on Monday morning in the hope of trying to resolve the dispute, the union posted on Twitter.
In a statement posted on the RMT website, Mr Lynch said the talks would aim to secure “a negotiated settlement on job security, working conditions and pay.”
It means rail strikes planned during December and early January are still scheduled to go ahead, with commuters facing severe disruption on 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17 December, and 3, 4, 6 and 7 January.
Mr Lynch previously insisted “I’m not the Grinch” as he defended the industrial action.
The RDG said it was proposing a “fair and affordable offer in challenging times, providing a significant uplift in salary for staff” which would deliver “vital and long overdue” changes to working arrangements.
The draft framework agreement gives RMT the chance to call off its planned action and put the offer to its membership, a statement said.
“If approved by the RMT, implementation could be fast-tracked to ensure staff go into Christmas secure in the knowledge they will receive this enhanced pay award early in the New Year, alongside a guarantee of job security until April 2024,” an RDG spokesperson said.
“With revenue stuck at 20% below pre-pandemic levels and many working practices unchanged in decades, taxpayers who have contributed £1,800 per household to keep the railway running in recent years will balk at continuing to pump billions of pounds a year into an industry that desperately needs to move forward with long-overdue reforms and that alienates potential customers with sustained industrial action.”
The company called on the union to “move forward with us” so we can “give our people a pay rise and deliver an improved railway with a sustainable, long-term future for those who work on it.”
Transport Secretary Mark Harper described the situation as “incredibly disappointing and unfair to the public, passengers and rail workforce who want a deal”.
The deal will “help get trains running on time”, he said.
A bleak winter of strikes
Motorists have also been warned to brace for Christmas chaos after road workers revealed they will down tools for 12 days to coincide with rail walkouts.
National Highways workers, who operate and maintain roads in England, will take part in a series of staggered strikes from 16 December to 7 January, the PCS union said.
A growing list of unions are threatening to grind the country to a halt, putting pressure on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
He is attempting a more constructive, less combative approach with the unions as the government treads a careful line between “being tough but also being human – and treating people with respect”, a government source told Sky News.
Some 10,000 paramedics voted to strike in England and Wales, the GMB union announced this week.
They join up to 100,000 nurses set to walk out in the biggest-ever strike by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland on 15 and 20 December.
On Sunday morning, Conservative Party Chairman Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News’ Sophie Ridge on Sunday the army could be deployed to help ease possible strike disruption over Christmas.
Morrisons owner paves way for departure of veteran CEO Potts
The owners of Britain’s fourth-biggest supermarket chain are drawing up plans to identify a new chief executive a year after acquiring it in a £7bn deal.
Sky News has learnt that Morrisons‘ controlling shareholder, the US-based private equity firm Clayton Dubilier & Rice (CD&R), has retained Egon Zehnder International to strengthen the grocer’s executive ranks.
Retail industry sources said this weekend that Egon Zehnder had been approaching potential recruits “with one eye” on finding a successor to David Potts, who has run Morrisons since 2015.
Mr Potts is not expected to leave until at least 2024, and is focused on improving the Bradford-based company’s performance after it was recently displaced as Britain’s third-biggest supermarket chain by the German discounter Aldi.
A number of internal candidates are expected to vie for the opportunity of replacing Mr Potts, according to insiders.
One said that CD&R was “continuously” working on succession planning at Morrisons and its other portfolio companies.
Sir Terry Leahy, the former Tesco chief executive who has a long-standing relationship with CD&R, will play a key role in the succession planning process as Morrisons’ chairman.
Earlier this year, Trevor Strain, Morrisons’ chief operating officer and previously its finance chief, left the company, having long been regarded as Mr Potts’ inevitable successor.
Morrisons delisted from the London Stock Exchange last year, ending a 54-year run as a publicly traded company.
Recent industry data showed that Morrisons had been usurped by Aldi in market share terms – a milestone in a sector which rarely demonstrates change in the membership of its top ranks.
Morrisons struck a deal earlier this year to rescue the convenience chain McColl’s, the market share of which was not included in that data.
CD&R and Morrisons declined to comment.
OPEC oil cartel holds production steady in face of Russia sanctions uncertainty
The Saudi-led OPEC oil cartel and allied producers including Russia have stuck to their output targets, despite uncertainty over the impact of fresh Western sanctions against Moscow.
The decision to maintain the status quo at a meeting of oil ministers on Sunday came ahead of the planned start of two measures aimed at hitting Russia‘s oil earnings following its invasion of Ukraine.
These are a boycott by the EU of most Russian oil, and a price cap of $60 (£49) on every barrel of its crude imposed by the G7 coalition of leading world economies.
OPEC+, which is made up of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies including Russia, angered the US and other Western nations in October when it agreed to cut output by two million barrels per day, about 2% of world demand, from November until the end of 2023.
The move, which would lead to increased prices at a time of already soaring energy costs, led Washington to accuse the group of siding with Russia despite Moscow’s assault on Ukraine.
OPEC+ argued it had cut output because of a weaker economic outlook.
Oil prices have declined since October due to slower Chinese and global growth and higher interest rates, prompting market speculation the group could cut output again.
However, the group of oil producers has now decided to keep the policy unchanged.
Its key ministers will next meet at the start of February for a monitoring committee, while a full meeting is scheduled for 3-4 June.
The price cap was agreed on Friday by G7 nations and Australia to deprive Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin of revenue while keeping Russian oil flowing to global markets.
Moscow has said it would not sell its oil under the cap and was considering how to respond.
Many analysts and OPEC ministers have said the price cap is confusing and probably ineffective, as Moscow has been selling most of its oil to countries like China and India, which have refused to condemn the war in Ukraine.
The price cap was not discussed at Sunday’s OPEC+ meeting, according to sources.
Russia’s deputy prime minister Alexander Novak said his country would rather cut production than supply oil under the price cap, and pointed out the limit may affect other producers.
Several OPEC+ members are understood to have expressed frustration at the cap, saying the measure could ultimately be used by the West against any producer.
Washington has said the measure was not aimed at OPEC.
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