The manifesto I stood on clearly committed this government not to increase taxes. Yet last week, I voted for an rise of 1.25 per cent on National Insurance to pay for increased NHS spending. There is no point in trying to gloss over my decision and people are owed an explanation. Lockdown and covid-related staff absences meant the NHS had to concentrate on urgent cases throughout the last 18 months. As a result, record numbers of people are on waiting lists for routine treatment. Everybody agrees getting those numbers down is going to require a huge amount of money.
We could possibly have borrowed the money. But borrowing reached nearly £300bn in the last financial year and could be as high as £200bn this year. We cannot keep borrowing money. Therefore, it came down to a simple choice. Try to borrow even more money and pass the costs on to the next generation, keep spending at current levels and accept large numbers of people will face long waits for treatment, or raise taxes and ensure that every extra penny goes on health and social care. We have taken the last option - a decision which will mean an extra £700m going directly into the Welsh NHS.
My inbox is full of complaints from people who feel aggrieved at the extra costs and I fully understand their anger. Nobody wants to pay more taxes and as a Conservative, I remain committed to seeing taxes stay as low as possible. But the country has been hit by the biggest and most challenging crisis since the Second World War. Millions of businesses and individuals have been supported throughout by various government schemes, and the costs have been immense. Unlike in other countries, the NHS did not collapse and we did not see people dying in hospital corridors. However, people with “non-urgent” cases are facing long waits without action. “Non-urgent” does not mean people are not in pain. With the success of the vaccination programme, the worst of the Covid pandemic is passing. We can begin sorting out the backlog of cases, but the money needs to be found. The NI rise was a difficult decision. Ultimately, I believe it was the right one.
*Published in the Monmouthshire Beacon on 15 September 2021 and the Abergavenny Chronicle on 16 September 2021*