When it was introduced in 1948, the welfare system allowed for everyone to pay into a National Insurance scheme via their wages.
This scheme was designed to help people who through unfortunate circumstances or illness had to take time off work. The State paid them sickness benefit. At retirement age you are given a state pension based on the number of years you have paid into the scheme.
Employers also have to pay into this scheme through National Insurance. Its based on a contributory principle and has nothing to do with funding the NHS. That’s done via our income taxes.
Over the years this has been eroded. Employers are now required to pay statuary sick pay – without any compensation. Low state pensions have resulted in people being given the option to take out private schemes to which the employer also has to contribute. Notwithstanding this, all employees and employers still must contribute to the National Insurance scheme.
It’s incredible to think that after 73 years, the 5th richest country in the world still has the poverty of care staff and nursing staff, in full-time work, receiving Universal Credit, and relying on food banks to feed their children.
The effects of Brexit, poor working conditions and low wages has also robbed us of qualified people taking up positions, including drivers, to deliver goods and services. This has resulted in queues at petrol stations and empty supermarket shelves.
Shortage of workers
And that’s not all. We are short of workers in abattoirs, meat processors, ambulance medics, care workers, nurses, hospitality staff. All this whilst crops lie rotting in the fields as there is no one to lift them. Little wonder that an appeal for qualified European drivers, who were made to feel unwelcome in the UK following Brexit, refused to answer the call.
The idea to increase peoples’ taxes through National Insurance in order to pay for these services without any plan is ludicrous.
Quite how the large increases to employees’ and employers’ share of National Insurance will be enough to cover the costs of care and the NHS is difficult to understand. There is no plan to increase workers wages or standards of care provided.
No mention of improving working conditions for nursing staff and care workers. Both these groups of people have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic and continue to do so now, in order to cope with the huge backlog of outstanding cases, the highest ever recorded. They are facing burn out and, sadly, abuse from members of their services. Many are leaving those vocations. Neither Governments have resolved, or look likely to resolve, this problem.
The initial response was to call in the British Army, who have also had severe staff cuts, to drive the service vehicles and ambulances.
However that won’t help the lack of qualified staff and hospital bed space required.
Universal Credit cut and National Insurance rise is wrong
To reduce Universal Credit, and increase National Insurance, at a time when the country is beset with high gas and electric tariffs, increased food prices, a probable 5% increase in your council tax and inflated prices at the petrol pumps is the wrong thing to do.
If the duty of Government is to protect its people, then both governments have failed miserably. The Nationalists simply say independence will solve all and refuse to mitigate against it, despite having underfunded the NHS and social care.
It would have been more honest had the UK Government introduced a ring-fenced health and social care tax. Everyone pays into it depending on their level of income regardless of whether it is earned or inherited. A one-off windfall tax on supermarkets, petrol stations, and all those who continued to make large profits during the Covid crisis by increasing their prices, along with landlords who continue to demand higher rents regardless of peoples ability to pay.
We need to look again at national minimum wage
This is why a national minimum wage was introduced. Clearly it is insufficient to enable people to live. Renaming it a ‘living wage’ does not make it so. It needs to be reassessed and increased to at least £13.
When I hear our over privileged and out of touch politicians say silly things like “people can work a couple of hours longer to make up the shortfall in universal credit” it displays a complete lack of understanding of the real world.
In fact 40% of those on Universal Credit are already working and have family responsibilities.
So much has to be done to get the country back on its feet again. But it cannot be done on the backs of ordinary working folk who are not responsible for our economic failures.
Len Ironside is a former champion wrestler who served as an Aberdeen councillor for 35 years, with four years as council leader
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