Downing Street has insisted Boris Johnson is “fully committed” to launching a controversial national insurance hike in the spring, despite reports that he is “staggering” on the issue.
An announcement-breaking 1.25% increase in national insurance contributions (NICs) was presented by Johnson as a way to tackle the NHS backlog and improve social care.
Right-wing conservatives opposing rising taxes are trying to take advantage of the prime minister’s current weakness and urging him to either eliminate it or delay its introduction.
A government source told the Times that Johnson is “staggered” on the rise, adding that he will “do anything to survive” from his current difficulties at Downing Street parties. And sources told the Guardian that the Treasury is becoming increasingly concerned that Johnson is preparing to slash public finances, slashing growth.
But, pressing on those reports on Friday, a No 10 spokesman said: “The prime minister and chancellor are fully committed to introducing the health and social care levy in April.
“We’ve talked before about why we’re doing this – to give the NHS the money it needs to tackle the backlog it’s created, as well as the long-term issue of social care.”
Speculation about a planned NIC increase gained air this week when Johnson refused to guarantee cast iron it would go ahead amid growing concerns about cost pressures.
And Defense Minister James Happy told the BBC’s Question Hour on Thursday that the government is “in a listening position” when it comes to assessing policy.
On Friday, however, No. 10 and the technology minister, Chris Phillip, both strongly defended the tax hike, and insisted it would be implemented as planned.
Philippe denied that any delays were being considered, with LBC “planning to proceed as planned”.
He said the increase, and subsequent introduction, of the health and social care levy from 2023 would provide £36bn over three years to fund the NHS and social care.
Opposition to the change has come from all sides of the Commons, as lawmakers fear that rising fiscal demands at a time of high inflation and rising energy costs could impact the household budget.
Former minister Robert Halfon said the government should look at different ways to support struggling families, including further possible cuts in foreign aid, rather than go ahead with NIC growth.
Labor is also opposing the hike. Speaking to reporters on a visit to Glasgow, its leader Keir Starmer said: “The Prime Minister needs to act on this.
“We have a very serious issue here, everyone is facing price hikes, whether it’s fuel, energy bills at home, inflation going up to 6%, it’s been a while since the years of John Major. Worst case scenario.
“And at that very moment, Boris Johnson and his government want to impose a tax increase on the people in April.”
The proposed 1.25% increase for workers and employers is due to begin in April, when it was agreed to by cabinet and voted on by lawmakers, with only five Tory lawmakers voting, and 37 not voting.
From 2023, the contribution is due to fall back to its current rate with a 1.25% health and social care levy, then implemented to raise money to improve care services.
In the 2019 Tory election manifesto, the party denied increasing national insurance when it returned to power.