It would be funny watching the mental gymnastics of Boris Johnson trying to square the circle of his broken social care manifesto promise if it were not so serious. Keir Starmer asked the Prime Minister to confirm several times this afternoon whether people would have to sell their home to pay for care. A cabinet meeting earlier this week saw Johnson shift his rhetoric, telling ministers that “no one will be forced to sell a home they or their spouse is living in” – a significant change from the straight-up promise made just two years ago that the new plan would mean people not having to sell their homes to pay for care. Here is what the Prime Minister told parliament today: “What we are doing is disregarding your home as part of the assets that we calculate – so if you go down to £100,000 that’s the beginning where we will ask you to contribute, but your home is not included in that.”
The session today comes after the showdown on a controversial change to social care plans, which saw many Tory backbenchers rebel or abstain and the government plan only narrowly prevail. Under the social care policy announced by ministers earlier this year, it was thought that any care costs incurred would count towards a new £86,000 limit, at which point the state would step in. But the vote on Monday means that only costs actually paid by an individual will qualify. The government will not account for any means-tested help received from the state, making it likely that only richer people will reach the cap. The Labour leader reduced it to a simple question for Johnson: how will someone with a home worth between £120,000 and £140,000 manage to raise the £86,000 in the first place without selling their home?
“It’s another broken promise – just like he promised that he wouldn’t put up tax, just like he promised 14 new hospitals, just like he promised a rail revolution in the North,” Starmer said. “Who knows if he’ll make it to the next election but if he does, how does he expect anyone to take him or his promises seriously?” This is a familiar attack line; the Prime Minister has proved, time and again, that he cannot be trusted. Johnson has been fighting fires just this week after his U-turns on rail spending and the sleaze row sparked by his defending a Tory colleague. The issue of trust and integrity in No. 10 is cutting through. As Starmer highlighted today, pointing out that Conservative backbenchers “this time” showed up for Prime Minister’s Questions (as opposed to the poor turnout last week) and the no-confidence letters being received by the 1922 committee chair, all is not well in the Tory Party.
But Starmer went further. The Labour leader invoked the spectre of 2017, pointing out a slight difference: “He’s picked the pockets of working people to protect the estates of the wealthiest. How could he possibly have managed to devise a working-class dementia tax?” Johnson promised in his first speech as Prime Minister that he would fix social care – in fact, he said he already had a plan. He then promised that no one would have to sell their home to pay for care in the 2019 election. Having waited two years for the plan, it turns out that the only people whose homes will be secure is the most wealthy. Johnson’s policy is already a failure, and not only in terms of how it fails the public. It draws a line between him and his ‘Red-Wall’ Tories, who represent constituencies where the most homes will have to be sold. It also leaves the possibility for a rerun of the issue that dominated the 2017 election.