Liz Truss has defended the government’s plan to increase national insurance from April, but accepted it would not be popular with voters.
Speaking to the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme, the foreign secretary said the government was in a “very difficult” financial situation as a result of the Covid crisis.
“Taxes are never popular,” she said. “As soon a possible we want to be in a position to lower our tax rates.
But she said: “We do face a short term issue that is we have spent significant amounts of money dealing with the Covid crisis, it does need to be paid back.”
In April, national insurance is due to rise by 1.25 percentage points for workers and employers.
The move is designed to tackle the Covid-induced NHS backlog and reform social care.
But it has faced stiff opposition from some Tory MPs who want the tax hike to be delayed or scrapped given the cost of living crisis hitting voters.
Senior Conservative MP Robert Halfon, told Sky News this morning that the government should “go back to the drawing board” and look at different ways to find the money.
Labour has also said it would not introduce the tax rise were it in power.
The row comes as Boris Johnson awaits the delivery of the Sue Gray report into Downing Street parties.
Truss, and Chancellor Rishi Sunak are seen as the two frontrunners for the Tory leadership should the prime minister be forced out by Conservative MPs following the publication of the report.
Johnson and Sunak put on a united front today as they made a firm commitment to go ahead with the national insurance rise.
Writing in The Sunday Times, the pair insisted that it is right to follow through on the “progressive” policy.
“We must clear the Covid backlogs, with our plan for health and social care – and now is the time to stick to that plan. We must go ahead with the health and care levy. It is the right plan,” they said.
“It is progressive, in the sense that the burden falls most on those who can most afford it.
“Every single penny of that £39 billion will go on these crucial objectives – including nine million more checks, scans and operations, and 50,000 more nurses, as well as boosting social care.”