Theresa May performed an emergency U-turn today by promising to cap the so-called “dementia tax”.
The Prime Minister bowed in the face of a major Tory revolt over plans to increase the amount that elderly homeowners and savers will pay towards their care in old age.
In a reversal just four days after her manifesto was published, Mrs May said there will be an upper limit to the amount taken from people’s estates after their death. “We will make sure there’s an absolute limit on what people need to pay,” she said in a speech launching the Welsh version of the manifesto.
One senior Conservative, former deputy Speaker Nigel Evans, said she had not gone far enough and should unveil the exact level of the cap before polling day. Some Tories were suggesting £150,000, £200,000 and £300,000 as possible levels.
Ministers said the upper limit would be set only after a consultation, starting with a green paper on care issues this summer.
Today, the Prime Minister shook her head as journalists accused her of abandoning “strong and stable leadership”, of having “buckled under pressure” and of being “weak and wobbly”.
The manifesto had offered increased protection for the savings of many people, raising the amount of assets protected from being seized to £100,000 from the current £23,250 level in England.
However, it extended the principle that homes could be counted as assets to cover bills for care at home, as well as care in residential homes.
Polls suggest the proposal alarmed voters, with the Tory lead falling dramatically although still showing Mrs May as well ahead.
She echoed Donald Trump’s language by accusing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn of making “fake claims” about the policy. Tories said she was referring to him saying the party had “asset-stripped the ill by forcing those who need social care to pay for it with their homes”.
Her announcement came a day after Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green denied in a BBC interview that any concessions were on the cards.
It followed protests from Tory candidates who reported that homeowners were anxious and furious that hundreds of thousands of pounds could be seized from their children’s inheritance.
More worryingly for ministers, the row injected life into the Labour and Lib-Dem campaigns. Yesterday, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson appeared to hint the party may rethink the plans, dubbed a “dementia tax” by Labour.
Downing Street denied a U-turn, saying it was consistent with the manifesto, which promised there would be a green paper on “system-wide issues” over elderly care.
Others said it was the first time in memory that a key manifesto pledge had been altered before polling day. Nick Clegg called it “Theresa May’s manifesto meltdown”.
Tory Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, one of those who urged a cap, welcomed the move. The candidate for The Cotswolds said:
“This is what people have been asking for on the doorstep. I have people whose homes are worth £300,000 to £500,000 who feared that they could lose nearly everything they had worked and saved for.”
He called for the upper limit to be £150,000.
Tory candidates urged Mrs May to “clarify” or “refine” the reforms. Mr Evans, seeking re-election as MP for Ribble Valley, said today: “We need clarity and to give answers and a generalisation of a consultation will no longer do.
People need to know they are not going to see their life savings haemorrhaged at a time when they are looking to their family’s future.”
The storm centres on the decision by No 10 to ditch the Conservative 2015 commitment to limit bills for social care to £72,000.
Ministers believe an upper limit cannot be too generous because the policy must ensure extra revenues are raised towards the bills for care for the elderly. Only 10 per cent of people have care costs of more than £100,000.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told the Standard: “We want to make sure that people who have worked hard and saved up all their lifetimes do not have to worry about losing all their assets through a disease as random as dementia. That’s why we want to introduce an absolute limit on the amount of money anyone has to pay for their care.”