UK Gov’t Eyes Tax Hike to Pay for Care for Older People

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans Tuesday to fulfill a election promise to grapple with the rocketing cost of the long-term care needed by Britain’s growing older population. To do it, he appears set to break another election vow: not to raise taxes. Johnson is scheduled to tell Parliament how his Conservative government will raise billions to fund the care millions of Britons need in the final years of their lives. That burden currently falls largely on individuals, who often have to deplete their savings or sell their homes to pay for care. One in seven people ends up paying more than 100,000 pounds ($138,000), according to the government, which calls the cost of care “catastrophic and often unpredictable.” Meanwhile, funding care for the poor who can’t afford it is placing a growing burden on overstretched local authorities. Johnson has been tight-lipped about his plans, which are being unveiled to the Cabinet on Tuesday morning before he makes a statement in the House of Commons. But the prime minister said late Monday he would “not duck the tough decisions needed.” He is expected to announce an increase in National Insurance payments made by working-age people to fund care and the broader National Health Service, which has been put under immense strain by the coronavirus pandemic. That would break the firm promise in Johnson’s 2019 election platform not to hike personal taxes. Breaking promises is hardly novel for politicians, but those enshrined in British parties’ election manifestos have long been considered binding on governments. Johnson’s rumored plan has alarmed many Conservative lawmakers — both because it involves breaking a firm election commitment, and because the burden would fall on working-age people and not retirees. Jake Berry, one of a crop of Conservative lawmakers representing northern England seats won from the Labour Party with promises of investment and new jobs, said the proposed plan would help affluent, older voters at the expense of younger, poorer ones. And William Hague, a former Conservative leader, said breaking an election promise would be a “loss of credibility when making future election commitments, a blurring of the distinction between Tory and Labour philosophies, a recruiting cry for fringe parties on the right, and an impression given to the world that the U.K. is heading for higher taxes.” Attempts to reform the care system have stymied British governments. Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, campaigned in a 2017 election on a plan to cut benefits to retirees and change the way they pay for long-term care. The idea was quickly dubbed a “dementia tax” by opponents, and May ended up losing her majority in Parliament. 

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