Boris Johnson is facing mounting Conservative anger and the prospect of a damaging Commons rebellion over social care reform, after it emerged that poorer pensioners face paying more for the cost of care.
One northern Tory MP told The Independent they were “very concerned” following the publication of a policy paper revealing that the means-tested support provided to some pensioners by local authorities would not count towards the £86,000 lifetime cap.
The prime minister already faces dissent on the back benches over the botched attempt to prevent Owen Paterson’s suspension – resulting in weeks of sleaze allegations – and accusations of “betrayal” over scaled-black rail plans, while the polls show a dip in Conservative support.
In a further blow to the government ahead of the social care proposals being debated in the Commons on Monday, former Tory cabinet minister Robert Buckland suggested he would vote against the changes, and urged the government to “look again”.
“We’re in danger of putting the cart before the horse,” he warned on LBC Radio. “There’s a lot of concern out there about this issue and I know the government is listening to those concerns.”
Andrew Percy, the Conservative MP for Brigg and Goole, questioned the impact of the proposals on poorer communities, particularly in the north, telling The Independent: “I’m very concerned about what I’ve seen of the changes so far.
“The whole purpose of this should be to protect the assets of those who have the least.
“We can’t end up in a situation where those with the least – who’ve worked just as hard as other people – who happen to live in areas with lower house-price growth are thereby paying the same as people who’ve benefitted from house prices just because of where they live.”
The Tory MP for Bury South, Christian Wakeford, also suggested on Sunday that he might vote against the government, telling Times Radio: “To move the goalposts after we’ve already introduced this, it’s not something I’m particularly comfortable with, especially when one of the main messages for introducing this levy was you won’t need to sell your house for care.”
The Conservative peer and former pensions minister Baroness Altman said the policy was a “perfect example of protecting the very well off and taking money away from those who are not well off”.
“It is a classic, classic ‘hit the red wall’ policy,” she told The Independent. “It’s those middle-class people, in areas of the country where property prices are much lower than the southeast and the big metropolitan areas even, who are the ones who have had money taken away from them this week.”
In an attempt to allay the concerns of colleagues on Friday, the care minister, Gillian Keegan, held a call with Conservative MPs, but according to The Observer she was “monstered” by backbenchers over the plans, which were published on Wednesday while Westminster was focused on the sleaze allegations that have engulfed the party in the past fortnight.
The Observer added that Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary, said it was “deeply disappointing” that the plans were “not as progressive” as those put forward by Sir Andrew Dilnot.
Sir Andrew, who led a government-commissioned review into social care funding a decade ago, told MPs that those with fewer assets would “not see any benefit”, adding that he was “very disappointed” that only personal contributions would count towards the £86,000 cap.
“A very large proportion of the population needing care will find itself materially less protected by the proposals the government has announced then they would have been,” Sir Andrew said as he addressed the Treasury Committee earlier this week.
The influential Treasury Committee also urged Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, to come clean about the inequalities created by the plans, requesting a full breakdown of the impact of the scheme on different regions of the country with different levels of financial assets.
In September, the government announced that an £86,000 cap on care costs would be put in place from October 2023. It also said that people with assets of up to £20,000 would not have to contribute anything to their care, while those with assets of up to £100,000 would be eligible to receive some local authority support.
But the newly released policy paper states that if people receive financial support for part of their care, only the share they contribute themselves will count towards the £86,000 cap.
The shadow social care minister, Liz Kendall, said: “The Tories are imposing a punishing tax hike on ordinary working people that does nothing to ensure more people get the care they need.
“Instead, their plans for social care have been exposed as a con that only protects the homes of the wealthiest people in the country. Now we know even fewer people with low and modest assets will be protected from having to sell their homes to pay for care.”
According to an analysis by the Labour Party, average homeowners in the Midlands and north are more likely to be hit by what Labour described as a “stealth” change to the social care proposals, as the party called on Conservative MPs to vote against the government.
But speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme, the health secretary, Sajid Javid, insisted that “everyone, doesn’t matter where they live in the country, will be better off” under the plans.
“What we have also done, which is very different to what [Sir] Andrew had set out in his original plans, is we’ve got a much more generous means test,” the cabinet minister said.
“So what our plans mean, taken together, is that everyone, everyone – doesn’t matter where they live in the country – will be better off under the new proposals that we set out, versus the current system. Everyone will be better off.”
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