Sunak’s NI charge to fund the NHS

4 Sep

Yesterday a thirty-something hearing specialist at my local NHS Clinic told me, after peering into my left ear through some optical wizardry, that she expects the NHS to go “in my lifetime”.

Her reasoning, and command of the facts, were not easily contested.

Today I read Richard Murphy’s latest blog post. My appreciation of this tax specialist’s work has grown and continues to grow. Is he naive, baulking at the appropriate conclusions from his own lucid reasoning? Or playing a fiendishly clever long game, knowing full well that, given capital’s insatiable need to expand or atrophy, the overarching agenda of Western states is to privatise every arena of human activity on behalf of those who truly rule?

(Aided by citizenries so far gone as to believe – #turkeys4xmas – they live under democracies informed by media whose first loyalty is to truth.) 1

Actually, the more I think about it, the less it seems to matter which. Here he is today, on how …

… Sunak’s 1% national insurance charge to fund the NHS is a deliberate, callous and unnecessary move to increase inequality and hardship 

There are widespread reports this morning that the Tories are planning at least a one per cent increase in national insurance to fund an increase in spending on the NHS of an equivalent amount. To describe a policy so poorly thought out as ill-conceived is to be overly polite. Let me point out some of the flaws.

NB – each of the next two paragraphs houses a link to another of Richard’s posts. I cannot recommend too strongly that both are also read.

First, this increase is not needed. The government can already afford to fund the £10 billion the NHS needs, with ease. I explained how here.

Second, the government does not need to raise any taxes to pay for increased funding for the NHS because the multiplier effect of additional NHS spending is high enough for such spending to pay for itself. Again, I have explained why.

In other words, the government simply does not need to adhere to the logic that an increase in spending must be funded. It did not follow that logic for £37 billion of track and trace funding that it is now admitted had no notable impact on the management of the coronavirus crisis, but which did massively line government cronies’ pockets. So why is this tax increase required? The answer is solely about politics. Rishi Sunak wishes that people should be punished for wanting more NHS spending.

That word ‘punishment’ is deliberately used by me. NIC is a deeply regressive tax. As the government’s own table of rates, allowances and reliefs makes clear, the tax targets those on lower pay. The charge starts on income below the income tax threshold. It is cut drastically on income above £50,268 a year. It is, therefore a deeply unfair tax already.

But worse are the exemptions from the tax. The retired, however well off they might be, do not pay it.

NIC is not paid at all on unearned income, whether from interest, dividends, rents, trusts or other sources.

And those with the means to manipulate their income – as many self-employed people with their own companies have been able to do – can avoid large parts of their NIC liability.

So, this is a tax on those in paid employment above all else.

This means that this is a tax on those most likely to be least able to afford a tax increase in this country.

It will hit those on very low incomes suffering cuts in Universal Credit and facing increased fuel poverty very hard.

And the wealthiest will not pay a penny more. You could not make up a tax outcome this bad however hard you tried.

Of all the tax options the government could have chosen this one is the worst. So why are they doing it? I actually genuinely think it is to punish. The punishment is on those who have not opted out of the NHS with private medicine. The Tory logic is that the wealthy will have done this – so they should not pay. Except, of course, in an emergency no one opts out of the NHS.

So, if this is the wrong tax increase, and assuming there had to be a tax increase (which as I noted above, need not be the case) then what should have been chosen?

I have listed many options for increasing tax on the wealthy, including these:

Let me elaborate on just a couple of the more obvious candidates. The first would be taxing capital gains at income tax rates. Notionally that would bring in over £9 billion in tax and still only bring the average capital gains tax charge to just over 30% when it is only 15% now. Allow for some behavioural change and such a move would easily bring in more than £5 billion a year. Cut the annual capital gains tax allowance – as social justice would demand – and the figure could be very much more.

Then there is an annual investment income surcharge. Annual investment income declared in the UK in the last year for which data was available was £92.3 billion. This does not include pensions. Two thirds of this sum was dividends. If around £40 billion this sum was exempt from any additional charge because it went to those with total income under £30,000 a year and the rest was subject to an investment income surcharge of 15%, equivalent to an approximate NIC charge, then £7.8 billion of additional tax would be due from this group – more than covering Sunak’s desired additional income.

So, with two simple changes I could fund dramatically more than the sum that Sunak is seeking from those with the ability to pay who are currently undertaxed instead of from seeking more from the lowest paid who currently pay much higher rates of tax than do those with investment income.

So why is Sunak proposing what he is? Simply because he holds most of the people of this country in contempt. There is no other explanation.  And worse, he is doing that for no good reason at all.

Worse though is this fact: making such a charge on these least able to afford it will increase demand on the NHS. That is how perverse this charge really is.


  1. Cutbacks in municipal services, fire sales of state assets, and creeping privatisation in the NHS are entirely of a piece with forcing the USSR to its knees, and the wars on the middle east. All should be seen, directly or diffusely, as part of the neoliberal drive to privatise the world to offset the tendency for the rate of profit to decline. Amazingly, in the face of oceans of evidence that this has nothing to do with it – try James Meeks’ Private Island, try Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine – people continue, after all that’s gone down since Mrs Thatcher’s day, to debate earnestly and in all sincerity whether state ownership or fully privatised enterprises are the more ‘efficient’. They confuse rationale with motive.

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