Free-market devotee Jacob Rees-Mogg has suggested that the NHS should take control of the social care system to stop the elderly ‘spending too long in hospital’.
The high-profile backer of Boris Johnson warned that the current split of the system between the health service and local councils was inefficient.
Mr Rees-Mogg, who generally supports small government, added that ‘it is the role of the state to save and shelter us from the overwhelming problem’ in a column for the Conservative Home website.
He wrote: ‘The cost of long-term social care is more than all but the super-rich can easily afford, and the risk of it falls indiscriminately.
‘The majority of families will not be hit in this way, but some will be hit completely.
‘It is also a continuation of the NHS principle of care free at the point of use: any constituency MP will have helped constituents argue what proportion of care is NHS and free and what is social, so paid.’
The comments from a close ally of Boris Johnson will fuel the suggestion that he is putting forward policy ideas on behalf of the Tory leadership front-runner.
It also suggests that Mr Rees-Mogg might fancy becoming health and social care secretary in a Boris Johnson Government, the job currently held by another of his supporters, Matt Hancock.
Ministers have long been accused of avoiding the issue of funding for adult social care, with councils warning of a multi billion-pound black hole as their central government funding shrinks.
Insiders claimed in April that the broken care system will not be fixed until after Brexit, as experts warned that 60,000 elderly people have died waiting for help while reforms were repeatedly put off.
Theresa May said it was time to stop ‘ducking the issue’ two years ago after the Tories first pledged a Green Paper – a preliminary report of government proposals.
But that paper has yet to be published.
Mr Rees-Mogg today said that the cost of reallocating social care to the NHS might cost £11billion, but added that ‘there would be some savings from the NHS budget as beds are freed up, reducing the misallocation of resources’
‘The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has recently revised up the nation’s GDP to £2.2 trillion so this is 0.5 per cent of national income, a significant but not disproportionate amount to provide for the needs of the most vulnerable elderly’, he added.
‘Council budgets take the strain for social care but the NHS for medical, which leads to people spending too long in hospital.
‘All the while, budgets are argued over and higher-cost hospital beds remain occupied by people who ought to be elsewhere – possibly, with a little support, even back in their own homes.’
Boris Johnson looked to be slimming down his war on ‘sin taxes’ today after a backlash from health experts.
The Tory leadership front runner launched an attack on measures such as the flagship sugar tax on fizzy drinks overnight – insisting such levies will be put under review if he reaches No10.
He also vowed to freeze new taxes on foods which are high in salt, fat or sugar – and argued those who want to lose weight should just exercise more.
But the pledge – which came as it emerged obesity is now a bigger cause of many cancers than smoking – sparked fury from health campaigners who accused Mr Johnson of ‘turning back the clock’.
Tory former health minister Steve Brine branded it ‘dog whistle politics’ and said he was in ‘despair’. Others pointed out that Mr Johnson had himself introduced a sugar tax in City Hall when he was Mayor of London.
Speaking during a campaign visit in Berkshire today, Mr Johnson appeared to soften his language – joking about his own weight issues as he stressed that obesity was the ‘number one public health challenge’ and saying he would be guided by ‘evidence’.
The only policy he singled out for condemnation was a ‘milkshake tax’ mooted by his own ally Matt Hancock. Aides have also made clear that tobacco and alcohol taxes will not be reviewed.
Mr Johnson said: ‘Obesity is a huge public health challenge, probably now our number one public health challenge.
‘It costs the NHS absolutely billions, we have got to deal with obesity but we have got to do it in a way that is evidence based and what I want to see is evidence, actually evidence that new taxes on this or that item of food, taxes which fall disproportionately on poorer families, actually stop people from being so fat.
‘You have got to make sure that it is discouraging people from consuming what they are doing, or whether it is just a bit of a gesture.
‘Now everybody struggles with their weight, me no less than anybody else, we all know what the issues are.
‘But my question is, is it really sensible to put a new tax on milkshakes which will be paid disproportionately by poorer families when the evidence seems to be at the moment ambiguous about whether those taxes actually reduce consumption and help people with their obesity?’
A levy on soft drinks was introduced in April 2018 in an attempt to cut the amount of sugar they contain.
Aides said Mr Johnson’s policy will not apply to other sin taxes such as those on cigarettes and alcohol.
Cancer Research UK chief executive Michelle Mitchell stressed the significance of the taxes and praised their success in lowering smoking rates and removing sugar from diets.
‘Taxes on less healthy products do have a positive effect,’ she said.
‘They have been highly effective in bringing down smoking rates to record lows, including within deprived communities, and the Treasury’s own analysis showed the tax on sugary drinks took 90 million kg of sugar out of the nation’s diet on day one.
‘Physical activity is one way to lose weight but the Government also has a big role to play if we are to significantly reduce obesity levels.’
The Obesity Health Alliance’s Caroline Cerny said voluntary programmes for the food industry to cut sugar ‘have not had the same success’ as the tax.
‘The levy is supported by the public and welcomed by a wide range of health experts and is vitally needed as part of a package of measures to help create a healthier environment for everyone,’ she said.
Mr Brine posted on Twitter: ‘As the Public Health Minister who oversaw the introduction of the sugary drinks levy, I totally despair at this.
‘Transparent dog whistle politics dressed up as something thinking. It is the exact opposite.’
Allies of Jeremy Hunt said the policy exposed divisions in Mr Johnson’s camp.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock – a backer of Mr Johnson – recently signed off extending the sugar tax to milkshakes, and a ban on sales of energy drinks to children.
Mr Hunt’s side said this showed Mr Johnson’s ‘own team are profoundly against’ his policies.
The move was hailed by low-tax activists, however.
Daniel Pryor of the Adam Smith Institute said: ‘It’s about time someone stood up against the killjoys who want to ban Tony the Tiger and force you to pay more for your sugary drinks.’