My Lords, what a climbdown. And what a spat between No. 10 and No. 11. The Chancellor has always had a tin ear, but did the Prime Minister not recognise that the NICs change was, in effect, a tax increase on the plumber, white van man, the entrepreneur and women working from home because of children—people who are typically “just about managing” and whose income fluctuates, is low and is often unreliable?
Yesterday, in the Budget debate, the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, spoke of the now discarded NICs change as a way to combat companies that, to benefit from tax arbitrage, push people out of employment into less certain self-employment. I suggest, as I did then, that if the NICs changes had been focused on those companies seeking that tax arbitrage, rather than on the self-employed then—manifesto pledge or no manifesto pledge—the response would have been very different. Were the Tory Government following their usual pattern of protecting big companies and big business and hitting the little people?
It is crucial, as I think everyone in this House would agree, that the increase of £2 billion for social care remains, inadequate though it is, being spread over three years. How will the Government fill the gap in the public finances when the Chancellor is so constrained by expected blows from hard Brexit? Can the Minister give us today a guarantee that it will not be filled by more severe spending cuts to public sectors already under extraordinary pressure? Do the Government agree that the whole Victorian structure of business and employment taxes needs re-examining? The former BIS Secretary, Sir Vince Cable, is chairing such a review for the Liberal Democrats. Will this Government, among their many reviews, take on frankly a review of similar scope, because it is vital?
When spreadsheet Phil decides to shoot from the hip, we surely have a Government puffed up in hubris. I am afraid that this exactly reflects the arrogance that led the Government to hard Brexit. If they have a tin ear over their own self-employed, how bad is the tin ear that they will take into EU negotiations?