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25 July 2019updated 24 Jul 2021 3:25am

Cabinet audit: What does the reappointment of Matt Hancock as Health and Social Care Secretary mean for policy?

By Anoosh Chakelian

Following the failed leadership candidate and Remainer’s embarrassing sycophancy towards Johnson during the campaign, Matt Hancock has stayed in the cabinet – but missed out on a promotion. The MP for West Suffolk since 2010 stays at the Department of Health and Social Care.

This continuity comes with policy challenges, however. Johnson has expressed an aversion to “health fascism” such as sin taxes, and Hancock has already reportedly tried to prevent the publication of a new green paper featuring proposals that include eradicating smoking by 2030, and restricting energy drinks to under-16s. It was published anyway, buried at 7.22pm on Tuesday night, with no press release or advance notice.

If Johnson is serious about starting a war with “nanny”, then Hancock will have a job on his hands steering the Department around from its achievements in areas such as the sugar tax to please his new boss. It will also feed into his lickspittle reputation.

The second half of his job title presents his other big crisis: social care. Johnson has said warm words on the subject with not much substance – giving nothing away but hinting at a “clear plan” in his first speech as Prime Minister. And Hancock himself had his own plan for £3.5bn extra for social care and the creation of an insurance system to cover costs, which will make selling any different proposals from Johnson tricky.

“Any plan which relies mainly on private insurance will not work, even with a pensions-style auto-enrolment scheme,” says the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, which has done the most recent and detailed report on funding social care. This means lots of extra spending and probably general taxation – something Johnson’s newly appointed libertarians may not be so keen on. Expect this to become a political issue, and a headache for Hancock.

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He will also continue to face questions on the perpetually delayed green paper on funding adult social care. Will Johnson’s “clear plan” make this moot?

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