The UK’s former Brexit minister on Monday became the latest senior Conservative MP to pressure Prime Minister Boris Johnson to scrap a tax hike due in April.
Lord David Frost, who recently resigned from the Cabinet over the government’s taxation and other policies, denounced the scheduled £12 billion ($16 billion) National Insurance hike as being neither necessary nor justified, and even less so during a cost-of-living crisis.
“The tax rises this April were never necessary or justified,” Frost told the Daily Mail.
“Given the new pressures on energy prices and inflation, it’s even more important now to scrap these tax increases and focus on getting the economy growing again. Allowing people to keep more of their own money is always the best way,” he said.
Frost’s remarks echoed comments from another former Brexit secretary, David Davis, who also called for the proposed tax hike to be scrapped in the face of cost-of-living pressures.
He told BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme that the 1.25 percent National Insurance rise would remove about 10 percent of the disposable income of “ordinary families.”
“It was a judgment made on, frankly, quite a lot of wrong data,” he said.
“They didn’t know at the time that by April we would have the highest inflation rate in 30 years, they didn’t know that interest rates would be going up, council tax would be going up, the fuel price is about to jump by £700 a year for the average family. Therefore, they didn’t know quite what pressure there would be on ordinary people.”
Official figures published last week showed that inflation soared to a near 30-year high of 5.4 percent in December, while an energy price cap rise in spring is set to stretch household budgets further.
Paul Johnson, the head of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, a leading British economic think tank, said on Sunday that he believes the National Insurance hike will mostly affect “people on modest and middle incomes,” who will also be “suffering from inflation, and probably not getting wage rises in line with that.”
The £36 billion ($48 billion) that the Treasury forecasts the extra National Insurance contributions will provide in the next three years has been earmarked to clear the NHS backlog and then to fund social care improvements.
During a visit to Milton Keynes Hospital on Monday, Johnson told broadcasters “we have to pay for” NHS improvements when asked about the National Insurance hike.
“The NHS has done an amazing job but it has been under terrible strain,” the prime minister said.
“Listen to what I’m saying: We’ve got to put that money in. We’ve got to make that investment in our NHS,” he said.
“What I’m telling people is, if you want to fund our fantastic NHS, we have to pay for it—and this government is determined to do so.”
The prime minister didn’t give a direct answer despite a reporter asking six times whether the policy is guaranteed to go ahead in April.
In a briefing with reporters, Downing Street defended the tax rise as the “right approach to tackle this long-standing problem.”
The planned National Insurance hike is one of a number of unpopular policies that are slated to begin in April.
A number of unions, including the Trades Union Congress and three royal colleges representing midwives, nurses, and GPs, have urged the government to delay a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for frontline health care workers, which is due to take effect on April 1.
The mandate also sparked a massive protest on Saturday, when thousands of demonstrators took to the streets, and NHS workers laid down their uniforms in Trafalgar Square in central London before tossing them at the gate of Number 10 Downing Street.
PA Media contributed to this report.