political

Norman Lamb to call for 1p on income tax to fund health and social care improvements

A follow-up to Tim Farron’s earlier floating of the idea of putting a penny on income tax to fund improved health and social care is coming from Norman Lamb at this weekend’s Lib Dem conference:

Income tax should be increased by 1p to deliver a £4.6bn boost to the struggling NHS while a long-term funding solution is found, the former Liberal Democrat health minister Norman Lamb has said…

Lamb will urge his party’s spring forum this weekend to back higher taxes to pay for health and social care.

“You have to be straight with the public about what you say you will raise and then do it,” he told the Guardian, in the wake of a government U-turn over the national insurance contributions rise that was proposed by Philip Hammond in last week’s budget.

He would like to see income tax increased by 1p immediately while a new system is phased in. Lamb has asked a committee of health experts to make recommendations, but he suggests rebranding national insurance and earmarking it for health and social care is likely to be his preferred solution. [The Guardian]

This move will help give some additional substance to one of the party’s three current policy priorities (Europe, health and education). However the evidence on how popular putting up taxes in this way is with the public is rather mixed. As I wrote previously:

There is rather a track record in Britain of theoretical support for tax rises taking a battering when put to the test in heated political debate, especially when atypical stories of ‘normal’ (for which read ‘earning far more than the average person’) people are rolled out by opponents.

All the more so when there’s also a widespread public view – however justified or not – that the underlying problem which a tax rise sets to fix isn’t about levels of funding but about something else.

That’s why the old 1p on income tax for education worked so well for the Liberal Democrats in a world of much lower immigration, but calls for tax rises now often run into public (mis)beliefs that the problem is immigrants putting pressure on public services rather than a shortage of cash which a tax rise could sort.

Raising taxes for a service as popular as the NHS is certainly one of the safer areas to try to raise tax – but only if you can also persuade people that it is a shortage of cash which is really the problem.

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