By Daniel Waldron

The Tories’ planned National Insurance rise is another attack on low and middle-income workers – many already struggling to make ends meet – from a government which shamelessly represents the super-rich. Using the Covid crisis as a pretext, they claim this tax rise is aimed at supporting the health service. In reality, it is part of their sinister agenda to undermine our NHS and allow it to be parcelled off to their big business friends.

Undoubtedly, we need increased funding for our health and social care services. They have been left creaking at the seams by decades of cuts, underfunding and privatisation by politicians at both Westminster and Stormont. Even before Covid, 1 in 6 people in Northern Ireland were on a waiting list.

However, additional funding should not come at the expense of ordinary workers, including NHS staff who have just been offered a miserly 3% ‘pay-rise’ as ‘thanks’ for their frontline role during the pandemic – a pay-cut when rising living costs, such as huge energy price hikes, are considered. The move would leave young workers also shouldering student loan debt having more taken out of their pay packet than those earning over £150,000!

Instead, the wealth should be taken from the billionaires who have made a killing over the course of the last 18 months, while working-class people have been fighting just to keep their heads above water. In the first three months of lockdown alone, the UK’s billionaires increased their personal wealth by £27 billion! Funds could also be directed away from destructive military projects, such as the £205 billion earmarked to replace the Trident nuclear weapons system.

Tory privatisation plans

Health Secretary Sajid Javid laughably claims he is part of a “compassionate Conservative government” which “cares deeply about the NHS”. Yet their Health and Care Bill – currently passing through Parliament – will give private healthcare vultures a seat at the table when NHS funds are being allocated, and allow them to cherry-pick services to run for profit. 

Rather than being invested directly into public health services, much of the money raised through the National Insurance hike will go into the coffers of private health companies, contracted to take on NHS patients. From 2023, the increase is to be separated out into a separate levy, potentially laying the basis for a shift towards a US-style, private insurance system – something which the DUP’s Sammy Wilson seems to endorse!

The working class cannot afford to take this attack lying down. The trade union movement must develop a plan of action – including major protests and industrial action – to block this tax hike on workers, and demand that wealth be taken out of the hands of the billionaires in order to fund a high-quality, comprehensive and fully public NHS for all. Socialist Party activists in the trade unions will be raising the call for a real fightback on this issue in the coming days.