Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP)
I am pleased to contribute to this debate. As I listened to the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) just now, the words that kept going through my mind were “Union dividend, Union dividend”—we are tied to a nation whose public finances are in a mess, unsustainable and in a dreadful state.
Before I come on to the regressive nature of the Government’s proposal, I want to touch on just how far it falls short of the promises that the Prime Minister and others made in order to get elected. They have claimed that they have a plan to reform social care in England. It is obviously not for me to dictate what that plan should be, but if they have one, perhaps the Minister will tell us what changes, if any, there will be in the balance of resources between the NHS and social care. What changes, if any, will there be to the arrangements to manage each individual’s needs as they make the transition from health to social care? What changes, if any, will there be to the balance in the provision of care for the elderly between residential and non-residential? What changes, if any, are planned to the balance of responsibility between the state and the family?
There are no easy or right or wrong answers to any of those questions, but although I do not have the answers, I know that there are questions. The Prime Minister does not. I do not believe the Prime Minister even recognises that any one of those questions must be faced up to before he can claim to have a plan, or even the first hint of a plan, to deal with the position that we have, or some of us have, in social care.
The second major problem is that, even if the crisis in social care in England could be fixed with money alone, this proposal would not deliver anywhere near enough, and most of the “not enough” is not going to social care. A lot of it will go to benefit the families of some care recipients—some, but not all; and guess which some?—leaving precious little to actually improve the service. To claim that anyone voting against this tax hike today is voting against meaningful improvements to social care is simply untrue, and those who are preparing to make those claims on their Twitter accounts know that what they are about to tweet is not true.
I am in favour of increased funding for our health and social care services. If necessary, I will support fair and progressive tax increases to fund them, and I will pay my share of those taxes quite happily. However, I will not support this proposal, because it is not fair and it is not progressive. It discriminates against younger people with average incomes in favour of older people with much higher incomes. It discriminates against people who earn their money through their own hard work in favour of people who earn their money through the simple fact of having had plenty of it to begin with. It discriminates against my constituents in Glenrothes and Central Fife and in favour of those in places such as the Prime Minister's constituency, where, according to the Government’s own statistics, the average income per person is nearly £10,000 a year higher than what my constituents have to get by on.
The Government have claimed—we have heard this in a number of Conservative contributions—that they already know which of the UK’s nations will contribute most to this tax hike, and which will benefit most. They have claimed to have conducted an analysis which shows that it is not regressive in terms of different income groups. Although our SNP amendment was not selected, I expect to see the Government honour the spirit of that amendment, not by the end of the year but by the end of the week. I expect them to publish the analysis that we have asked for—or is this another case of their claiming to have all the information until they are asked for it, when we suddenly discover that it does not exist?
The final substantial objection to the Government's proposal is that it is designed to grab powers away from the democratically elected Governments of three of the partners in this Union, and place them in the hands of a Prime Minister who has no mandate to do this even in England. I have no issue with anyone allocating additional resources to Scotland, but I have a big issue with signing up to a regressive tax hike with no guarantee whatsoever that the Barnett consequentials will not be siphoned off as a result of some later Budget decision. Any guarantees that we get from the Government today will be as worthless as the promises that they made in their manifesto in 2019.
Let me be clear: the SNP will continue to honour its manifesto commitments. Any Barnett consequentials coming to Scotland as a result of increased spending on health or social care in England will be passed on in full to health and social care services in Scotland. But within that overarching guarantee, who do the Government think has the mandate to decide exactly how Scotland’s health and social care funding is allocated? I doubt that there is a single person, even on the Tory Benches, who honestly thinks it is right to assume that, because a particular way of allocating funding might be right in England, it is automatically right in the other three UK nations, where health and social care are organised in a completely different way. There is all the difference in the world between allocating funding to be used in a way that honours the Scottish Government’s manifesto promises, and decisions being foisted on us in a failed attempt to cover up the fact that the British Government do not keep their promises, to the electorate or to anyone else.
If one of the Prime Minister’s heroes had been here today, he might well have observed that never had so many promises been broken in such a short time to the detriment of so many and to the benefit of so few.