Boris Johnson saw his House of Commons majority slashed in a key vote on social care, as 19 Tory MPs joined Labour to vote against a controversial scheme branded “Robin Hood in reverse” and dozens of others stayed away.
Although the prime minister’s proposals cleared the House of Commons by a margin of 272-246, the majority of 26 was well below Mr Johnson’s 80-seat majority, with notable absentees including former PM Theresa May and ex-health secretary Jeremy Hunt.
The measure now faces further opposition as it moves to the House of Lords, where former pensions minister Baroness Altmann is among Tories threatening to rewrite Mr Johnson’s plans. She told The Independent the scheme was “a perfect example of protecting the very well off and taking money away from those who are not well-off”.
Changes to the Health and Care Bill announced just days ago will save the government £900m a year by making a proposed cap on lifetime social care costs significantly less generous for poorer pensioners while allowing wealthy home-owners to pass the majority of their assets on to their children.
Labour and some Tory MPs accused the PM of going back on his promise that no-one would be forced to sell their home to pay for care, after it became clear that means-tested contributions made by local authorities on behalf of some pensioners will not count towards the £86,000 cap.
As a consequence, adults with assets worth up to £106,000 will gain little compared to the current system and significantly less than under the scheme initially announced by Mr Johnson in September.
Meanwhile, those with assets of £186,000 or more will be able to pass the bulk of their property on to their children after their death. Hardest hit are areas of the north and Midlands where house prices are lower than in the affluent south.
Some Conservative ministers and MPs came back to the Commons for the 10pm vote from the party’s lavish fundraising Winter Ball, where donors paid thousands of pounds to mingle with senior Tories.
An auction of promises saw one ballgoer bid £35,000 to play cricket with chancellor Rishi Sunak and other paid £25,000 for a karaoke evening with foreign secretary Liz Truss.
Labour health spokesman Justin Madders told the Commons the scheme was “Robin Hood in reverse”, taking from the poor to give to the rich.
Naming a string of so-called “red wall” areas won by the Tories from Labour - including Hartlepool, Bishop Auckland and Stoke-on-Trent - Mr Madders said: “This isn’t just a few people in those constituencies who will lose out.
“It’s thousands of people in each constituency, mainly in the Midlands and the north of England, who will be forced to sell their homes while those in the more affluent areas of the country will get to keep theirs.
“That’s not fairness. That’s not fixing social care. That is a betrayal.”
Conservative MP Kevin Hollinrake told MPs: “There is no doubt that the way the cap works for those with more modest assets is less generous. How can that be fair?”
Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt said that the package overall was a significant improvement on the current system of paying for care.
But Mr Hunt - now chair of the Commons Health Committee - added: “It is nothing like as progressive as we had hoped for.”
Following the result of the vote, Labour’s shadow care minister Liz Kendall said: “Tonight, Tory MPs broke the promise they were elected on that nobody would have to sell their home to pay for care. Instead they voted to tax ordinary working people, while the wealthiest in our country are unaffected.
“Once again Boris Johnson’s failures translate into working people paying the price. Families in this country deserve better.”
And former shadow chancellor John McDonnell said the “remarkable collapse in Tory vote” was a demonstration of “collapsing support for Johnson on Tory benches”, claiming that talk was already under way among Conservative MPs about his replacement.
Tory MPs who voted against Mr Johnson’s plan included former cabinet minister Esther McVey, ex-chief whip Mark Harper and ex-health minister Dan Poulter, along with “red wall” MPs Chris Green (Bolton West), Mark Jenkinson (Workington), Damien Moore (Southport), Holly Mumby-Croft (Scunthorpe) and Christian Wakeford (Bury South).
Other rebels were Peter Aldous, John Baron, Philip Davies, Kevin Hollinrake, Philip Hollobone, Andrew Lewer, Julian Lewis, Jason McCartney, Mike Penning, Andrew Percy and William Wragg.
The author of a definitive report on social care reform, Sir Andrew Dilnot, told MPs last week that the government’s proposals would leave 60 per cent of older people needing social care worse-off than under his proposals. And he said it would “hit people in regions of the country with lower house prices, so there is a north-south axis to this”.
And older people’s charities voiced disappointment, with Age UK saying the plan “waters down Sir Andrew Dilnot’s original proposal to save the government some money”, while Silver Voices said it was “regressive in its impact on poorer households”.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies