Tories to cut winter fuel payments for wealthiest pensioners as they launch manifesto

Conservatives are not expected to say how much extra cash will be put into easing the day-to-day care crisis

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Indy Politics

Theresa May will take the controversial step of taking away winter fuel payments of up to £300 from wealthier pensioners – but also drop plans for an overall ‘cap’ on costs payable by those receiving care.

Unveiling the Conservative manifesto, the Prime Minister will claim she is finally getting to grips with what she will call the “fundamental unfairness” of Britain’s social care system.

If re-elected, the Tories would do what David Cameron never dared, by means-testing the annual fuel payments so popular with the pensioners who are the bedrock of the party’s support, with the cash diverted to social care.

But Ms May will also risk a backlash by dumping the Conservative commitment to restrict the maximum amount the elderly must pay for their care, designed to prevent them from having to sell their homes to pay the bills.

Mr Cameron proposed a cap of £72,000, delayed until 2020, but the Prime Minister will now argue that limit – proposed by Sir Andrew Dilnot, in an independent review in 2011 - is no longer needed.

Instead, she will pledge to significantly raise the threshold of personal assets at which people will be eligible for state help with residential care costs from £23,250 to £100,000.

This will prevent people with “modest or medium wealth” from “catastrophic” costs and allow them to “pass on their wealth to their families”, the Tories will argue.

However, Sir Andrew had argued for both an overall cap and a higher threshold to protect assets – and a more generous one, at £118,000.

The Conservatives are certain to face criticism that the new policy, while more generous than currently exists, will not prevent people from eventually having to sell their homes to meet high costs. While no-one receiving care will have to sell their home during their lifetime, or the lifetime of their surviving partner if they live together, this may have to happen at a later stage to meet care bills.

Charities such as Age UK have argued that a cap is necessary because people “worry about losing everything”.

According to Labour, one in ten people reaching the age of 65 face lifetime care costs of more than £100,000, with some homeowners paying the entire value of their properties.

Supporters may argue that a policy leading to more elderly people selling their homes will be a boost to social mobility.

However, the Conservatives are not expected to say how much extra cash will be put into easing the day-to-day care crisis, after £4.6bn of cuts since 2010 – depriving around 1.2m older people of the care they need.

Speaking in West Yorkshire – unveiling a manifesto called “Forward, Together” - Ms May will not pretend the policy offers everything that people wished for.

Instead she will say: “People are rightly sceptical of politicians who claim to have easy answers to deeply complex problems.

“It is the responsibility of leaders to be straight with people about the challenges ahead and the hard work required to overcome them.”

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The Prime Minister will add: “This is my plan for a stronger Britain and a prosperous future.

“It is a declaration of intent: a commitment to get to grips with the great challenges of our time and to take the big, difficult decisions that are right for Britain in the long term.”

Ms May will attempt to sweeten the pill by allowing people receiving care at home to defer payments until they, and their partner if they have one, have died.

This right is currently only available to people moving into residential care, under instructions to local councils made compulsory a few years ago.

The Conservatives will argue this is a guarantee that “no-one will have to sell their home to pay for care costs in their lifetime, or that of their surviving partner living in the family home”.

Only last week, it was reported that the manifesto would include a cap on lifetime care costs, but possibly set at £85,000 rather than £72,000.

However, that would have cost at least £2bn a year, more than is likely to be raised by means-testing the winter fuel allowance.

In 2015, the Tory manifesto read: “We will look after you as you grow older. We will cap charges for residential social care from April 2016….so no one has to sell their home.”

Labour has pledged to put £3bn a year into social care by the later years of the next parliament, but has not said at what level a cap on care costs would be set

The Liberal Democrats have backed the £72,000 figure proposed during the Coalition’s years in power, to be funded from 1p extra on income tax.