Johnson defends ‘incredibly generous’ social care reform plan

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Boris Johnson insisted his plans for reform of social care funding are “incredibly generous” as he sought to head off a looming backbench revolt.

Some Conservative MPs warned they will not support the new policy to cap care costs in England, which critics argue has been watered down since it was first announced.

Ahead of a vote on Monday night, the Prime Minister said the plans are addressing a “long-standing social injustice” which has seen sufferers from conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease face “catastrophic” care costs.

Speaking at the CBI annual conference in South Shields, he said: “These are incredibly generous and they are much better than the existing system.”

Earlier, Red Wall Tory Christian Wakeford warned it “shouldn’t be taken for granted that we’re just going to walk through the same lobby”, while former justice secretary Robert Buckland has suggested the Government should “look again” at the issue.

In September, the Government announced that an £86,000 cap on care costs will be put in place from October 2023.

However, in a policy paper last week, the Government said that for people who receive financial support for part of their care from their local authority, only the share they contribute themselves will go towards the £86,000 cap.

Boris Johnson answers questions during the CBI annual conference
Boris Johnson answers questions at the CBI annual conference (Owen Humphreys/PA)

That will mean that wealthy people who do not qualify for support will reach the cap threshold faster than poorer ones who have part of their care funded by their council.

Economist Sir Andrew Dilnot, architect of the original plans for a care cap, said it will mean that poorer recipients of care, including those in the North of England and in areas with lower house prices, will be hit hardest.

But Mr Johnson argued that the Government’s plan is better than the current situation and in some respects an improvement on Sir Andrew’s original proposals.

“Under the existing system nobody gets any support if they have assets of £23,000 or more. Now you get support if you have £100,000 or less, so we are helping people,” he said.

“It is, in fact, more generous than some of the original proposals of Andrew Dilnot because it helps people not just who are in residential care but also people who benefit from domiciliary care as well.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

“We are finally tacking a problem that has bedevilled this country for decades, been very, very unfair on people who have got dementia or Alzheimer’s and been forced to face catastrophic, ruinous costs for that care when somebody who has cancer or some other affliction does not.

“We are addressing a longstanding social injustice and it will benefit the people of this country.”

The Conservative Party manifesto in 2019 said social care reforms must “guarantee that no-one needing care has to sell their home to pay for it”.

Under the plans, people with assets of less than £20,000 will not have to contribute anything to their care – up from the current level of £14,250 – while those with assets worth up to £100,000 will be eligible to receive some local authority support, up from £23,250.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman indicated that ministers would not be bringing forward changes to the plan to head off a potential backbench rebellion by Tory MPs.

“We will continue to listen to views put forward by people who are invested in this policy but we continue to believe that this is a system that is necessary, fair and responsible,” the spokesman said.

Pressed on whether people could still have to sell their homes to pay for care costs, the spokesman said: “I can’t predict individual situations.”

The Commons showdown comes amid lingering ill-feeling on the Tory back benches over the Prime Minister’s handling of the Owen Paterson standards row.

Conservative former chief whip Mark Harper said he would be voting against the new social care policy because it “potentially disadvantages the less well-off and those of working age with life-long conditions”.

In a Commons debate, John Baron highlighted concerns from the Tory benches “about the distribution of the relative losses and the worry that those less well-off are going to be hit hardest from the Government’s amendment tonight”.

Health minister Edward Argar insisted that “nobody will be worse off than under the current system” as he defended the changes.

Earlier, Bury South MP Mr Wakeford warned it is not a foregone conclusion that Tory MPs will back the Government.

He told Times Radio: “What I wanted to see was a plan and it feels like we didn’t have one then. I’m not fully sure we’ve got one now, but then to change, to move the goalposts after we’ve already been introduced this, it’s not something I’m particularly comfortable with it.

“Especially when one of the main messages for introducing this levy was ‘You won’t need to sell your house for care’, to get to a point where unfortunately you might need to and (it’s) arguably our least well-off in society, our least well-off voters – again, it’s not something I’m particularly comfortable with.”

The change has caused uproar with experts, who said it will mean such households receiving less protection than expected, and that they could still face catastrophic costs which would eat up a far greater share of their assets compared with wealthier recipients.

Labour said its analysis has shown the changes will mean the average home-owner in two-thirds of northern areas will have to pay more towards their care. In the Midlands a third will be worse off, it said.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth told Sky: “If you live in a £1 million house, perhaps in the Home Counties, 90% of your assets will be protected if you need social care.

“But if you live in an £80,000 terrace house in Hartlepool, Barrow, Mansfield or Wigan, for example, you lose nearly everything.

“That is not fair, that is not levelling up, it is daylight robbery.”

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