Boris Johnson has risked further angering Tory MPs by seemingly watering down a manifesto commitment with a concession that some people may have to sell a home to pay for social care costs.
The Prime Minister narrowly succeeded in getting the Commons to back his new policy to cap care costs in England as his majority was slashed by Conservative rebels and those who chose not to vote for the move.
Backbenchers criticised the change to the £86,000 cap to only include individual payments and not the contributions of local authorities because it will cost poorer recipients more in assets than the wealthy.
Ahead of the vote on Monday night, Downing Street declined to say whether the reforms would fulfil a Tory pledge at the last general election to guarantee “nobody needing care should be forced to sell their home to pay for it”.
But Mr Johnson apparently downgraded the commitment by telling his Cabinet that “no one will be forced to sell a home they or their spouse is living in as it will not be counted as an asset”, according to No 10’s account of the meeting on Tuesday.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman insisted the policy was the “correct approach” when asked if the remark was an admission some may have to sell their homes to pay for care.
He also said there is “no intention” to change the policy with another U-turn as it stoked backbench resentment further following the Owen Paterson affair.
Meanwhile, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said in a letter to the Commons Treasury Committee that he is not able to say how the changes will affect individuals and regions because an impact assessment on the reforms will not be published until “early in the new year”.
Conservative MP Mel Stride, who chairs the cross-party committee, said: “It is disappointing that the Government’s response to my request for an impact assessment on these changes was received so late in the day. The letter, which was sent half an hour before Parliament was set to vote on the changes last night, does not provide the full assessment requested.
“I have real concerns about the way these changes have been introduced and the Treasury Committee will continue to keep up the pressure on the Government to publish a full impact assessment as soon as possible.”
Ministers staved off a potential defeat in the Commons when MPs backed the Government’s amendment to its reforms with a majority of 26.
But that was a major cut to the Prime Minister’s working majority of around 80 MPs, as 19 Conservatives including former Cabinet minister Esther McVey and ex-chief whip Mark Harper rebelled to oppose the plans.
Senior Conservative William Wragg and NHS doctor Dan Poulter were also among the Tories to vote against the change, as were Christian Wakeford and Mark Jenkinson, two MPs who seized former Labour strongholds in the North for the Tories.
In September, the Government announced that a £86,000 cap on lifetime care costs will be put in place from October 2023.
However, a policy paper last week showed that only personal contributions will count towards that cap for people who receive financial support from a local authority for some of their care.
Experts said that means poorer individuals will reach the cap faster than those who are wealthier and will therefore see more of their assets eaten up by care costs.
The Resolution Foundation think tank warned that people in the North and in Yorkshire are most at risk from having their “wealth wiped out by care costs”, and said the changes approved on Monday would make the reforms worse.
Mr Harper said it “potentially disadvantages the less well-off and those of working age with life-long conditions”.
Bury South MP Mr Wakeford said he was uncomfortable with the change “to move the goalposts” while Basildon’s 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”.