National Insurance Contributions Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 22nd June 2021.
(1) A primary Class 1 contribution is not to be payable in respect of any Scottish Government Covid payment.
(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), a ‘Scottish Government Covid payment’ means a payment of £500 pro rata to any NHS Scotland or social care worker in accordance with the announcement made by the Scottish Government on 30 November 2020.”—
This new clause provides exemptions for Scottish Government Covid payments to social care workers.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
As this will be my penultimate contribution, I would like to offer my thanks to the Clerks and everyone who has helped the proceedings to move so smoothly, through your chairmanship, Ms Nokes, which has helped considerably with that objective.
On Second Reading, I remarked on the unfairness that was caused by the Treasury’s refusing to exempt income tax on the thank-you payment that the Scottish Government made to health and social care workers. It was in the form of a £500 thank-you bonus to reflect how health and social care workers were valued for their contribution during the incredibly challenging period that we have been through. The full benefits of that payment have been put at risk by the UK Government’s ability to tax us. Contrary to a number of assertions, the Scottish Government do not have the ability to get round that, other than by paying far more than the £500. It would therefore be far better to have the exemption in place.
Although an exemption for the bonus would be welcome, we recognise that the majority of welfare employment powers reside with the UK Government. We therefore want to press the new clause to ensure that clarity is provided and that any future payments for health and social care workers can be exempt from national insurance contributions.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments and, again, his attention to the Bill. The Government recognise, as he does, that covid-19 is the biggest threat the UK has faced socially, economically and in many other respects for many decades. Key workers, including social care workers and workers in the NHS, have demonstrated an astonishing commitment to keeping the public safe in the fight against the disease. The Government massively value and appreciate those contributions. However, in this case, although I understand where the hon. Member is coming from, the Government do not believe that the new clause is appropriate or necessary. We fully recognise the hon. Member’s concern, but we do not believe the new clause is the appropriate way to proceed.
Under long-standing rules, any payments made in connection with an employment are chargeable to income tax and national insurance contributions. They also count as income for the purposes of calculating entitlement to certain benefits. The £500 payments made by the Scottish Government to health and social care workers function as a top-up to wages. We therefore consider that those payments are taxable as earnings under normal rules, as I think has been recognised by the Welsh Government.
The UK Government have provided more than £5.9 billion of additional funding for the Scottish Government this year through the Barnett formula. If the intention of the Government in Scotland is for health and social care workers to benefit by at least £500, it remains open to them to gross up the payment to take into account the tax and NICs liabilities, as the Welsh Government have done.
I think everything that needs to be said has been said. On that basis, I would like to move to a vote.