The Week

The Week, 7 January 2022

Happy New Year! It might not be the pandemic-free start to the year we would have liked, but confirmation over the festive break that boosters definitely are doing their job and hospitalisation rates remain well below those of previous waves is encouraging. That said, sky-high case rates are having a deleterious impact on the workforce, meaning the NHS is still overwhelmed and the army is being deployed to help relieve the pressure, businesses are still struggling to keep their doors open, and schools are struggling to maintain full, in-person timetables.

One implication is further cancellations of, and delays to, non-Covid care (e.g. in Manchester). This week’s publication of the Health and Social Care Committee’s report on Clearing the backlog caused by the pandemic, is therefore timely. Unsurprisingly, it’s not happy reading. The Committee raises concerns that while a serious plan to reduce the ballooning elective care waiting list is vital, there is a danger that targets focused almost exclusively on this could lead to neglect in other areas such as mental health and primary care. They are calling for a National Health and Care Recovery Plan to encompass all areas of care to be published by April.

In addition, they rightly point out that unless serious workforce shortages are addressed, the Government and NHS will only have limited success in addressing any health-related backlogs. In relation to the Government's failure to publish a long-term workforce plan, Committee Chair Jeremy Hunt and his colleagues argue that there is a big “gap between ministerial rhetoric about supporting frontline staff and refusal in practice to do the biggest single long-term change that would relieve the pressure they face.” They note that money from the Health and Social Care Levy will be coming in before plans have been put in place to address the workforce crisis — the limiting factor for our health and social care systems. Madness.

With just two parliamentary sitting days this week, there is little to report from Whitehall, but it’s safe to say that the focus in the early weeks of this term will be much the same as the final weeks of last term: Covid and the cost of living.

At Reform we’re starting with a bang, hosting Minister for Care and Mental Health Gillian Keegan, Minister for Children and Families Will Quince, and Minister for Efficiency and Transformation, Lord Agnew of Oulton at events all within the next four weeks. Do join us if you can.

As ever, here our recommended reads from the past week...

Pre-pandemic, few people would have heard of the term genomics, yet this branch of molecular biology has been vital in the fight against Covid — and the UK leads the world in the field. If you want to know how the process actually works, read this accessible explainer, published in The Conversation earlier this week. Even better, it ends on an optimistic note about the role genomic sequencing will play in the future. As well as enabling us to create early warning systems for future pandemics, the authors note that “Genome sequencing also has a role to play in the future of healthcare and medicine. It has the potential to diagnose rare genetic disorders, inform personalised medicine, and monitor the ever-increasing threat of drug resistance.”

On Wednesday, our friends over at Onward published a new paper on extending auto-enrolment, Levelling up pensions, timed to coincide with a ten-minute rule bill introduced in the House by Richard Holden MP with the same aim. Analysis for the paper finds that the current exemptions and thresholds for auto-enrolling employees “results in a pension participation rate of just 20% for 16-21 year-olds, 41% for those earning £100-£199 per week, and 58% for part-time employees.” Given the importance of saving early, we at Reform fully endorse the recommendation that all workers aged 18 and above should be auto-enrolled.

Finally, today the ONS published their latest statistics on wealth in Britain. This blog from Arun Advani and Hannah Tarrant for LSE explains why they don't show the whole picture and how the pandemic may have impacted wealth distribution.

Best wishes for 2022,