In the former red wall seat of Stoke-on-Trent Central, which the Conservatives won for the first time in 2019 with a majority of just 670, opinion on the government’s new plans for health and social care funding was split.
In one camp were many who felt the national insurance hike was justifiable, a post-pandemic necessity to fund a struggling NHS and social care sector, and it was only fair that the burden should be shared across the population.
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“If the money is spent well, I think it’s worth doing,” said 33-year-old Alexander Griffith, who works in mobile catering and events. “I just want to see the money being spent in the right places.
“It might be tough for some people but as long as people are charged on how much their wages are, people should pay, we need to fund the NHS somehow.”
View image in fullscreenTahira Mirza: ‘We need to contribute something.’ Photograph: John Robertson/The Guardian
Tahira Mirza, 53, said: “You’ve got to look at it in the sense that the NHS is free, in a lot of other countries you have to pay. I think we need to contribute something.”
She said she often leans towards Labour but is more of a floating voter, and doesn’t think the policy will do too much damage to the Tories, despite them backtracking on an election promise. “It’s only minimal, a 1.25% rise, I don’t think it’s too much to ask.”
But in the opposite camp, there were plenty who felt the government was unfairly expecting younger people and lower earners to take the hit.
“I don’t think it’s fair, I think everybody’s struggling so I don’t think it’s the best time to be asking people to pay more,” said 37-year-old Suzanne Swindain. “I understand that we’ve paid a lot for Covid, but I think they should give us a rest for a bit.”
She also felt the plans did little to tackle some of the root problems with the social care system, and didn’t think she would benefit much in the long run.
“I’ve got kids and we own our house,” she said. “I don’t think it will make much difference to us because if anything happened to us, we’d still have to pay for our own care, and then we’re not giving anything back to our children. They need to overhaul it all.”
Steve, a deputy manager at The Chimes care home in Stoke, described the plans as a catch-22. While he welcomed the move to increase funding for social care, something he said has long been needed, he was worried about the impact it would have on care staff on low salaries.
“We would welcome any kind of money into social care, but is it really fair that it’s going to come from national insurance, which is going to come from staff?” he asked. “They need to take it from somewhere else that doesn’t need that money.
“For a staff member in health and social care, on national living wage, by the time they pay their rent and bills, they’ve got very little left in disposable income for the rest of the month. And now they want to take some of that in more national insurance. It’s unfair. These people have worked hard throughout the pandemic.”
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Like many, he felt the party breaking a key election promise would contribute to a growing disillusionment with politicians. “They made a promise which they haven’t kept to but it’s like a lottery these days anyway. You vote for a government but then it never is what it says on the tin,” he said.
Sue, 63, a retired teacher who declined to give her surname, was concerned most of the money would be funnelled into the NHS and the social care sector would be left struggling.
“How much is actually going to social care? Social care in the community is very important and under so much pressure. I would like to see the levy go towards that. I know everywhere is desperate for money though,” she said.
Another self-described floating voter, she said she could understand why there has been a backlash against the plans, but the problem needed to be addressed.
“I think [the social care system] is a poisoned chalice for whoever takes it on. It is in such disrepair through neglect and with Covid,” she said. “And I get it that young people are concerned, I have a 29-year-old daughter who thinks she’s paying for everything, as I did at her age. But the amount of money that is needed for this is mind-blowing.”
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