Dowden says social care tax hike ‘right thing to do’ despite Tory poll slump

The Culture Secretary has predicted a Tory bounceback after a new poll suggested their lead had slipped following the announcement of the Government’s social care tax hike.

A YouGov survey found that backing for the Tories had fallen by five points to 33% after Boris Johnson announced an increase to national insurance contributions to pay for social care reforms.

The dip sees Labour take the lead on 35% – the first time Sir Keir Starmer’s party has been out in front since January.

Cabinet minister Oliver Dowden said that despite the poll result, he thought voters could still “reward” the Tory Government at the next election for taking a decision on social care which he argued was designed to “protect the long-term national interest”.

The senior minister said he “hated” putting up taxes but that the alternative was more borrowing that would “burden” future generations.

Boris Johnson, after seeing off a Tory rebellion, secured the support of the House of Commons this week for his controversial £12 billion tax rise to deal with the NHS Covid backlog and reform social care funding.

Ministers intend to raise national insurance contributions by 1.25 percentage points to pay for the changes.

Mr Dowden, asked about the YouGov poll findings on Sky News, said “opinion polls come and go” and praised the Prime Minister for refusing to shirk the social care challenge.

“When you come to the next general election, which is some time away, people will weigh that up and what they will see as a result of this is, because we have put the extra money into the NHS, we have avoided a crisis in the NHS, we have increased capacity in the NHS and we have finally, after many governments previously ducked this challenge of social care – I remember 10, 15 years ago we were talking about this – finally, the Prime Minister has actually done something about this,” the Culture Secretary said.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson secured the backing of MPs for his social care reforms this week
Prime Minister Boris Johnson secured the backing of MPs for his social care reforms this week (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor)

“And I think, in the end, the electorate reward governments who are willing to take difficult decisions in order to protect the long-term national interest, and that is what that decision is all about.”

According to the Government’s own analysis, the tax hike proposed to pay for the health investment could mean a further burden on those “just about managing financially”, with their income set to reduce.

In the 2022 to 2023 tax year, someone earning an average basic rate taxpayer’s income of £24,100 would be expected to pay an additional £180, and someone earning an average higher rate taxpayer’s income of £67,100 would pay an additional £715.

Pressed on whether his comments meant he felt it was worth making an “unpopular” decision on social care for the good of the country, Mr Dowden added: “Of course I hate putting up taxes, any Conservative hates putting up taxes, but the alternative to doing that would have been to mislead the public, basically – to say somehow we could increase resources to the NHS without there being a cost, which would ultimately have meant more borrowing, burdening our children and grandchildren.

“We are being straightforward and transparent and saying: in order to pay for this, we are having to put up national insurance contributions.

“I think that is the right thing to do in the long-term national interests and I think that people will ultimately recognise that.”