Toby Helm of The Observer reports Saturday 17th May: Tories approach Labour MP Frank Field to help tackle NHS deficit – A conjuring trick is proposed, to raise taxes calling it National Insurance, whilst failing to address the philosophy and the need to ration overtly. It does show how difficult it is to change and even harder for a conservative than a labour government. It was labour under Mr Muldoon, who achieved the change in NZ…
A Tory minister has asked Labour MP Frank Field to meet the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to discuss his ideas for raising national insurance contributions to pay for the NHS, in a sign that the Conservatives are considering radical options to plug the huge funding gap.
Field told the Observer that he was approached by the minister, who said the financial crisis in the NHS needed to be addressed and that he was right to be floating ideas on how the service could be maintained and put on a sound financial footing for future generations.
Field told the minister he would be willing to meet the health secretary, but not before he had held talks with shadow chancellor Ed Balls about his proposals, which he did last Tuesday.
According to Field, the minister also said that the financial crisis in the NHS had been the subject of discussions at high levels in government in recent weeks.
Field is drawing up proposals that he says will help to fill a looming £30bn a year “black hole” in NHS funding that will occur by 2020.
Without action, he says, a Labour or any other government would be faced with the prospect of having to make swingeing cuts across the other public services, far deeper than envisaged so far, to maintain the NHS in anything like its current form….
Field said the extra NI contributions should go into a dedicated fund that would be run as a mutual, with elected members negotiating each year’s level of contributions. “What we need is a new settlement for the NHS, an NHS mark two, that will reassure people that the most popular public service is safe for future generations.” He is now concerned that unless Labour moves on the issue, the Tories will steal the idea. Field proposed the sale of council houses in 1979, only to see Margaret Thatcher take up the idea and turn it into one of her most emblematic policies.
Labour is already committed to combining the budgets for health and social care but the party’s public position thus far has been that it will not look at a specific NHS tax.
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham is wary of increasing NI in a way that would mean younger people in work having to pay the care costs of those already of pensionable age.
He favours other options, including a plan floated by Labour before the last election for a levy of 10% to 15% on people’s estates after death to pay care costs. To address Burnham’s concerns, Field proposes that those now over pension age would be asked to continue to pay NI, if they wanted free care. Otherwise, they would have to pay under the current system.