Ministers have made a change to England’s social care plans that will disproportionately affect poorer retirees, despite a hefty grassroots uprising.
The change means that council contributions to health care costs will not go to the ceiling, meaning that poorer people who receive means-tested assistance will end up paying the same as richer people if they need care for a significant amount of time.
It would save the government £900 million a year by 2027 but would expose many poorer homeowners to “catastrophic costs”, including the need to sell their homes to fund care, analysts said. The vote passed by 272 to 246, a majority of 26. There were 18 Conservatives rebels and 70 abstentions, only 13 of which were linked, according to Labor.
Among the rebels were a number of Tories in the northern seats likely to be hit hard by the changes, including the 2019 incoming MPs Christian Wakeford in Bury South, Holly Munby-Croft in Scunthorpe and Mark Jenkinson in Worthington.
Angela Rayner, deputy Labor leader, said Tory MPs “voted to break their promise that no one should sell their homes to pay their social security costs, and voted to beat poorer retirees to protect millionaires in mansions”.
She tweeted: “It’s an estate tax in the north and a scam, not a social care plan.”
During a speech in the House of Commons, Health Secretary Edward Argar defended the change, which goes against what was originally proposed by the cap’s architect, Sir Andrew Dilnot. “We’ve always intended that the cap should apply to what people contribute personally, rather than the combination of their personal contribution and that of the state,” he said.
Argar said, disapproving of the Labor banks, that “no one will lose from these reforms compared to the system we have now, and the overwhelming majority will win”.
Among the rebels was former Conservative chief Mark Harper, who had urged ministers to withdraw the amendment. “It potentially disadvantages the less fortunate and those of working age with lifelong conditions,” he said. “DHSC” [Department of Health and Social Care] ministers have not worked well with the sector or MPs to explain their thinking or decisions.”
The chairman of the Treasury selection committee said he had “genuine concerns” about how the change had been made and said no geographic assessments had been made.
As anger mounted in Westminster, Downing Street and Secretary of State Paul Scully repeatedly refused to guarantee that no one would have to sell their house to pay for care.
“The social care solution is all about getting a cap above which you don’t have to pay – that gives people security,” Scully told Sky News.
“If you hit the cap, you no longer have to pay money for your personal care. I think that’s a fair, balanced approach for taxpayers and people who have to pay for the currently very expensive form of care through social care.”
Amid mounting tensions with back seats, cabinet ministers spent the afternoon calling MPs to emphasize that the details of the full social care package would mitigate the effects of the change and a full impact assessment would be published.
In the House of Commons, Damian Green said the government should publish an impact assessment. The former minister, who abstained from voting, later said it was unclear whether the change to the maximum for health care costs would be fair. He told BBC’s Newsnight: “The party wants to see a good fair solution to social care that is fair across the country and in all parts of the country.
“And to put it politely, it’s not clear yet if this solution achieves that.”
Jeremy Hunt, chair of the Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee, told colleagues it was better to vote through the plans in hopes that in the future governments would make them fairer to those less wealthy. Hunt said it was a “slightly stingier cap” than had been hoped, but that it was “a step in the right direction”.