The Fairness of National Insurance

“I was too ill to keep working, but my partner is still working so I thought I wasn’t entitled to anything.”

This is something the local authority welfare rights advisors of Rights Advice Scotland hear all too often. A hard-working couple pay their taxes, including National Insurance Contributions into the system for years. They might be self-employed or employees. Then one of them develops a long term illness like heart disease or cancer, or is the victim of an accident. Perhaps a hit-and-run drunk driver injures them. The person keeps trying to struggle on at work for a few more years but it’s too much for her and eventually, reluctantly, she has to stop work.

If their partner’s wages are still too much to qualify for Universal Credit they assume they are going to get nothing. But that is where National Insurance Contributions help rebalance the fairness of the system. Because of the years they have paid into the national insurance system, the person is entitled to the benefit that is currently called “new style Employment & Support Allowance” (ESA). It’s had other names down the years since national insurance was introduced in 1911 but the principle remains the same. If you’ve paid your National Insurance Contributions during at least the last two years and become too ill to work, then you are entitled to a weekly payment for up to one year. If the ESA health assessment proves you remain unfit for work after a year then you continue to receive it, subject to periodic health assessments.

The Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has stated “Our long-term ambition is to end this unfairness… we will continue to cut national insurance.” Mr Hunt and those who support him talk about national insurance as a tax that they ultimately intend to abolish, but they deliberately don’t mention the national insurance based benefits that these contributions entitle you to. These include new-style ESA, new-style Jobseekers Allowance for people who find themselves temporarily between contracts for longer than expected but whose partners are still working, and of course, your state retirement pension.

Ending those benefits will reduce Britain’s social security system to an American style “welfare” system where no matter how much you’ve paid in tax over the years, if your partner is working you will get nothing if you become too ill to work, or a drunk driver injures you.

You may be confident that you and your partner will stay illness and accident free and fully fit for work until you plan to retire, and I certainly hope you do. But if there’s a chance one of you mightbecome too ill to work, ask yourself is it really fair that you get nothing for all those years that you paid into the system just because one of you is still working? Whether you are self-employed or an employee, that is the fairness of your National Insurance Contributions.

Paul Dowsland

Director, Rights Advice Scotland

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