Social care: Coburn grills Alex Chalk on government plans
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This week the Conservatives will face their first electoral challenge since the furore over Owen Paterson’s lobbying activities and the controversial changes to how the planned £86,000 cap on care costs will work when voters go to the polls in the by-election in the traditionally safe seat of Old Bexley and Sidcup. Labour does not expect to overturn the Conservative majority but is banking on a record swing in its favour. Richard Tice’s Reform UK, the successor to the Brexit Party, is also working to win support among voters turned off by the Government.
There will be alarm in Tory circles if there are signs that support among pensioners is slipping away. A YouGov analysis after the 2019 election found that 67 percent of people aged 70-plus backed Mr Johnson’s party.
One of the 19 Conservative MPs who rebelled last week against the changes which mean the £86,000 cap will only include individual payments – not the contributions of local authorities – made the case for a u-turn.
They said: “The cost of the care cap policy is ultimately unfair and goes contrary to the pledge we made that no one will have to sell their home to pay for care. I hope the Lords amend this plan and send it back so that we can do the right thing.”
The Government argues that nobody is going to be worse off than under the present system but groups representing older citizens are appalled and want the Lords to reverse the decision. They will lobby MPs to accept changes made by the Lords when the legislation returns to the Commons.
Caroline Abrahams of Age UK, said she hoped the peers in the Lords will “vote to overturn” the change to the cap, saying it “significantly waters down the Government’s plan for a cap on catastrophic care costs and does so in a way that protects only the better off”.
She added: “This is unfair and means the people who are most in need of protection against the risk of their care bills wiping out all their assets are least likely to receive it. This is why we hope the House of Lords will persuade the Government to think again.”
Dennis Reed of Silver Voices wants the Lords to go even further and push the Government to go back to “square one”.
He is concerned that the cap does not cover daily living costs for people in care homes. The Government argues that costs such as rent, food and utility bills “would have had to be paid wherever someone lives”.
Mr Reed said: “The whole plan in our view is a bit of a con because it pretends that the social care crisis is going to be resolved as a result of it. But it hardly tackles any elements of it…
“[We] would like the House of Lords to send the whole Bill back and say, ‘Look, there are so many flaws in this we would like the Government to think again and go back to square one.’”
Mr Johnson used his first speech as prime minister to promise to “fix the crisis in social care once and for all” – and Silver Voices’ Mr Reed warned of the consequences for the PM if voters feel let down.
He said: “We do remember he made a big thing about this… He is never going to escape from those promises unless they are actually met…
“Yes, his credibility is on the line and that’s why we think it’s in the Government’s interests as well to really have a fresh think about this.”
Conservative rebel Kevin Hollinrake, the MP for Thirsk and Malton, voted against the change to the cap because he is concerned many people in the north of England are among the most likely to be badly affected.
Warning that the new rules would result in a “£900million transfer” of assets to the Treasury and, he expected, the health service, he said: “We need to rejuvenate the north and to give the north a real boost.”
Another rebel defended the Government’s overall plans for social care but hoped that the decision to not include council support payments in the lifetime limit on costs will be ditched.
They said: “The truth of the matter is we are doing something which other governments of other persuasions have never done anything about ever and I am pro the Bill. I just think this could disproportionately hit poorer parts of the country and thus poorer people.”
Sir Andrew Dilnot, who authored a landmark 2011 report into funding social care, warned last week that under the current plan “we are not tackling catastrophic cost for the less well off, although we are for the better off”.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “For the first time in history we are stopping people having to pay unlimited amounts for their care. Compared to the current system more people will be supported with their social care costs, have greater certainty over what they need to pay and receive higher quality care.”
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