For all the correspondence it had with actual circumstances, the long-awaited cry of “Freedom!” – via Zoom by a Prime Minister cloistered at Chequers – might as well have been delivered in an unconvincing accent by an American-Australian actor inexplicably daubed in woad.

Like Braveheart, England’s “Freedom Day”, and for that matter Scotland’s “Level 0”, doesn’t correspond much with objective fact. Rules about masks or travel may be tweaked in a manner that confuses everybody by making it impossible to work out what’s merely advised or legally required, but the one thing this was never going to be was the end of Covid.

But there are signs that all the UK governments are at least considering recovery, rather than merely trying to cope from second to second. That may change, but the current wave, alarming in case numbers, is not (yet) accompanied by similarly dismal figures on deaths, ICU treatment, or hospital stays of more than a day or so.

Even if you worry about the wisdom of it, there is a logic to opening up; the argument “If not now, when?” isn’t as silly as it may appear. It has to happen sometime: lockdowns were devised to save the NHS and get the vulnerable, and most of the rest of us, immunised. The damage caused – on non-Covid health, to education, public services, small businesses and the economy – can hardly be overstated.

It’s a stretch to say that current levels of hospitalisations, when 92 per cent of the adult population has antibodies, makes relaxation obviously reckless or premature. Even the dotty-sounding “vaccine passports for nightclubs in September but not now” policy makes sense if it’s primarily to nudge the young and asymptomatic into getting jags (August is when most would get the second).

Unfortunately, no such defences can be raised against the suggestion for the first step in economic reconstruction: hiking National Insurance to pay for social care. In other words (since NI is not an insurance or pension fund, but a tax, if not a Ponzi scheme), increasing tax on everyone who works to pay for those exempt from that same tax.

It’s difficult to remember anything before March 2020 – I find myself surprised by the absence of masks and social distancing on repeats of The Avengers, the only TV worth watching – but you may recall that one of the Prime Minister’s first announcements was that he had a plan to sort out social care. God help us if this is it.

At the time, any plan sounded good to those who knew this is a fiscal timebomb created by successive governments of all stripes, terrified to offend older, home-owning voters – largely because, unlike young Corbynites shouting on Twitter, they actually vote.

Boris Johnson’s solution was, however, delayed by the pandemic, which as we all know only cast more light on the inadequacies of social care, and the degree to which it and the health service were interdependent.

Despite much-vaunted claims about the differences in the Scottish approach (since 2002), distinctions in costs and contributions are not that substantial: almost everyone who owns their own home here pays too, and often slightly more for slightly less. To provide an exact equivalent to the Scottish set-up would cost the Treasury about £1.4 billion for a population ten times the size, which isn’t chickenfeed, but is about one per cent of England’s normal NHS budget. In any case, our demographics make the sums just as urgent here, even if the terrible mishandling of Covid and care homes hadn’t put reform at the top of the agenda.

Anyway, two years later, we still haven’t officially heard what the delayed UK plans, intended to spearhead a battery of post-“Freedom” announcements, amount to, because the PM, Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid, the ministers responsible, have all had to isolate again. But if it is a one per cent rise in NI, that will be dreadful for a whole host of reasons.

Perhaps the least important is that it shows the government has no genuinely radical, reforming ideas, though that in turn bodes ill for the prospect of real change and improvement. If the proposal is a tweaking of the Dilnot Commission plans, which were going to cap costs for individuals at £50,000, it probably means that even this added tax burden won’t bring in enough, anyway.

It is also, in any sensible view, not only unaffordable but manifestly unfair to advocate any solution that doesn’t involve a contribution from people sitting on what – to many of us – is significant personal wealth.

In parts of England, that may mean retirees with only low-to-middling incomes, but who own homes worth millions (the average London house price is more than £500,000). Too bad. Theresa May’s very tentative move towards that may well have cost her a lot of votes in 2017, but the Tories still need a workable solution. It would be nice if that doesn’t alienate all their own supporters, but it may not be possible.

If all the options are unpopular, just after you’ve won a huge majority is the best time to get it out of the road. It may be Mr Johnson’s bad luck that he didn’t get the chance two years ago to offer us this tax rise (five minutes after a manifesto promising no tax rises), but it would still have been a terrible idea then.

Tally up the economic costs and sacrifices of Covid, which disproportionately fell on those who’ll end up paying, then add in the pension triple lock – which means non-NI payers get an 8 per cent rise this year – and it’s now a slap in the face.

Social care needs urgent reform. It needs funding. But it is unreasonable to expect low-paid young workers to pay for those with significant personal means, simply so their equally well-padded middle-aged children can protect a potential windfall.

There’s a perfectly coherent case against inheritance tax, but this isn’t even that. There’s a contrary case for universal, non-means-tested, welfare provision from general taxation, but this isn’t that either. It’s a plan for a shelf-stacker in Asda to pick up the tab for a retired stockbroker’s care while he or she isn’t even liable for the tax that collects the money, not matter how much they’ve got piled up.

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