Tories still to decide on approach to social care crisis that ruined Theresa May's election campaign, health secretary admits

Matt Hancock will not commit to a cap on bills, saying: 'I’m not going to get into the details of it'

Matt Hancock can't say social care plan will be in Conservative election manifesto

The Conservative general election manifesto may not contain firm proposals to solve the social care crisis, the health secretary has admitted.

Matt Hancock said his party was “working on a plan” – after the controversy derailed Theresa May’s campaign in 2017 – but added: “We are not ready to publish it yet.”

He would not commit to the Tories promising a cap on social care bills, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I’m not going to get into the details of it.”

Mr Hancock also raised fresh questions about the meetings senior British civil servants held with US health firms to discuss the price of NHS drugs in a post-Brexit trade deal, revealed this week.

There had been “no agreement, no formal meetings”, the health secretary said, adding: “No mandate has been set for how these trade talks will happen” – while insisting the price of medicines would be “off the table”.

The comments came ahead of the House of Lords clearing the way for the election on 12 December, with no amendments expected when the bill reaches the upper chamber.

John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, brushed off Labour’s dismal poll ratings, saying: “I think we will win – I think we will have a majority government by Christmas.”

Noting Boris Johnson had warned his own MPs of a “tough campaign”, adding: “It’s going to be Labour breathing down his neck in this election and overtaking him.”

Mr Hancock argued the Conservatives – unlike in 2017 – now had a “positive domestic agenda” to win over voters, pointing to big-spending pledges on hospitals, schools and the police.

But that campaign was fatally undermined by Ms May’s plans for people to pay more towards their care, initially without a cap, which was dubbed a “dementia tax” on the election trail.

It is now nearly a year since Mr Hancock claimed a green paper to overhaul social care was about to be published. It has been delayed numerous times.

The heath secretary is known to favour a German-style plan for all workers over the age of 40, including pensioners, to pay a new ring-fenced tax - perhaps 2.5 per cent of their wages – ring-fenced for social care.

It is unclear if the Conservatives will put it in their manifesto, if the party fears it runs into fresh opposition from people unwilling to pay the levy.

Labour, at its annual conference, unveiled a £6bn-a-year commitment for elderly people to enjoy free personal care, allowing them to remain in their own homes.

Mr Hancock argued his party would make the election about delivering Brexit and an offer to voters beyond the saga of the last three years.

“What we're proposing is to be able to deliver Brexit on a deal and then to be able to get on to the NHS, to having 20,000 more police, to the increases in spending on schools and strengthening school standards, on to strengthening the environment, and all the other things on the domestic agenda, that only we can deliver – because it's only by having a majority in parliament we'll be able to move beyond all the things that have blocked this from all happening in the last few years,” he said.

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