Boris Johnson’s controversial care plans face resistance in Lords

Tory peer tells prime minister to expect defeat in upper House

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Tuesday 23 November 2021 18:58
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In October MPs voted against an amendment to limit the kind of crimes that could be authorised
In October MPs voted against an amendment to limit the kind of crimes that could be authorised

Boris Johnson’s controversial social care bill will “undoubtedly” be amended in the House of Lords, as peers urge MPs to think again about the “Robin Hood in reverse” cap on care costs, The Independent has been told.

Peers said that the Upper House will be “emboldened” in revising the prime minister’s plans both by the size of the Conservative rebellion in Monday’s vote and by the fact that crucial details of the cap’s operation were released only days before the legislation cleared the Commons, giving MPs almost no time for scrutiny.

And a former Tory deputy leader said Mr Johnson should prepare for defeat in the Lords on the bill, which completed its passage through the Commons on Tuesday.

Conservative peer Ros Altmann said there were concerns over how the cap - which threatens to force pensioners with assets of £106,000 or less to sell their homes to pay for care while protecting the property of wealthier individuals - fits in with the prime minister’s professed aim of “levelling up” the country.

Both Baroness Altmann and Tory former health secretary Andrew Lansley are understood to be considering amendments which could force MPs to reconsider the last-minute change announced last week, under which local authority contributions will not be included towards the proposed £86,000 lifetime maximum for spending on care.

Former pensions minister Lady Altmann told The Independent: “Undoubtedly there will be amendments. I am hoping that the government might address some of the problems that have arisen from this bill, particularly relating to the way it may be very good for the well-off, but not at all for middle and working-class families across the country. If we are committed to levelling up, I’m not sure this fits in.

“These changes have happened far too fast, given their importance. The fact that it was rushed out days before MPs were asked to vote will only make peers more ready to ask the Commons to reconsider.”

Professor of palliative medicine Ilora Finlay, who sits in the Lords as a crossbencher, said there was “disquiet” among peers not only about the cap, but also about the failure of the legislation to deal with long-standing problems about the integration of health and social care and the status of care workers.

“Health and social care are treated as separate because they have different budgets, but it is the same person that requires health care and social care if something goes wrong,” Lady Finlay told The Independent.

“There are financial silos and service commissioning silos and the result is that patients find themselves in hospital and can’t be discharged to social care because the facilities are not there and that causes backlogs.

“Government after government has kicked this into the long grass. At least this government is trying to do something. What we need to do is see whether there is something here in the bill that we can build on. I would expect the Lords to do what they do well, which is to scrutinise every line of the bill and debate what needs to be debated to improve it.”

Lady Finlay said there were potential problems with the detail of Mr Johnson’s proposed care costs cap, which effectively treated people differently depending on the increase in the value of their homes since they bought them decades previously.

“If you bought a home in the north of England 40 years ago, it will have increased in value by far less than if you had bought it in Surrey, and that will affect the outcome under the design of this cap,” she said. “There is a risk of widening disparities, which is a potential problem.”

The Health and Care Bill is unlikely to receive its first reading in the Lords much before Christmas, with any crunch votes not expected until February, giving peers a long time to build coalitions behind amendments.

Labour’s leader in the Lords, Angela Smith, said she expected opposition parties to seek cross-party co-operation, building on the widespread concern among Tory peers about the cap plans.

“One of the things that emboldens the House of Lords to act is where there is a sense that public opinion feels the Commons has got it wrong,” she told The Independent. “People have had very little time to find out about this, but I think over the coming months we will see pennies dropping across the country. If Tory MPs are being contacted by their constituents about concerns, they will be in touch with Tory peers and that will help shape thinking.

“There are clearly already tensions because of the scale of the rebellion, and because of the government’s history of U-turns, Tories can’t be confident that the government isn’t going to change its mind under pressure. That will also shape thinking.

“People are already talking formally and informally about how changes could be made. There are a lot of people in the Lords with a background and expertise in social care or experience of social care. They can now give the government the opportunity to do the right thing.”

Former Tory deputy leader Peter Lilley said Mr Johnson must expect to see his plans defeated in the Lords.

Speaking to Times Radio’s John Pienaar, Lord Lilley said: “The government normally does get defeated in the Lords. This is what nobody realises, the rare occasions we win a vote the chief whip sends us an email rejoicing in this rare fact. So it’s normal for the government to be defeated. It will probably be defeated on this, and send it back to the House of Commons.”

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