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Tory manifesto: more elderly people will have to pay for own social care

The Guardian logo The Guardian 6 days ago Rowena Mason, Heather Stewart and Denis Campbell
The prime minister is expected to announce an end to the triple lock on pensions in the manifesto. © Getty Images The prime minister is expected to announce an end to the triple lock on pensions in the manifesto.

More elderly people will have to pay for their own social care in the home and lose universal benefits under a new Conservative policy which, Theresa May will say on Thursday, is difficult but necessary to tackle the crisis in funding.

Introducing the party’s election manifesto, the prime minister will say it is the “responsibility of leaders to be straight with people about the challenges ahead” as she unveils a controversial policy that would reduce the value of estates that many people hope to pass on to their children.

The policy will be a flagship measure in the Tories’ election manifesto, which the prime minister will pitch as a programme for solving some of the challenges facing Britain. It means wealthier people with more than £100,000 in assets will have to pay for their own elderly care out of the value of their homes, rather than relying on the council to cover the costs of visits by care workers.

Related video: The art of repetition - how May is ramming her message home (Provided by Sky News)

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The Conservatives will attempt to soften the blow by promising that pensioners will not have to sell their homes to pay for their care costs while they or a surviving partner are alive. Instead, products will be available allowing the elderly to pay by extracting equity from their homes, which will be recovered at a later date when they die or sell their residence.

Labour responded to the announcement by saying that people could not trust the Tories’ promises on social care. Barbara Keeley, shadow minister for social care, said: “In their last manifesto, they promised a cap on care costs. But they broke their promise, letting older and vulnerable people down.

“It’s the Tories who have pushed social care into crisis; their cuts to councils have meant £4.6bn axed from social care budgets between 2010 and 2015, leaving 1.2 million people struggling to get by without care. And NHS bosses have recently said that the money the Tories promised them won’t help alleviate the problems.”

To provide a more immediate boost in funding for social care, the government will also end universal winter fuel payments of £100 to £300 a year for pensioners, bringing in a means-tested system instead. The Conservatives declined to say how much they would raise from this, or what limits they would place on who is eligible for the benefits, but the payments currently cost the government around £2bn a year.

The manifesto is set to have a markedly different tone from Labour’s, which promises a populist programme of mass nationalisation, more spending on the NHS, the abolition of tuition fees and an end to the public sector pay cap.

May billed it as a “declaration of intent: a commitment to get to grips with the great challenges of our time and to take the big, difficult decisions that are right for Britain in the long term”.

“People are rightly sceptical of politicians who claim to have easy answers to deeply complex problems. It is the responsibility of leaders to be straight with people about the challenges ahead and the hard work required to overcome them,” she will say.

Other measures expected to be included in the manifesto are:

• A pledge to scrap free school lunches for infants to pay for free
breakfasts for all primary pupils, saving around £650 a year per pupil, which will be used to increase schools funding by about £4bn over the parliament.

• Extra charges for businesses that employ workers from overseas and higher charges for foreigners who use the NHS.

• A ditching of the triple lock on increasing the state pension, as
signalled by May and other ministers during the campaign.

The care policy is an attempt to meet the cost of looking after the elderly in their homes, which councils across the country are struggling to fund in the face of severe budget cuts. In turn, this has been putting unprecedented pressure on the NHS.

At present, people have to pay for their social care at home if they have wealth of more than £23,500, excluding the value of their residence. Under the new policy, people will have to pay for their social care only if they have wealth of more than £100,000 – but the value of their homes will be included as well. As a result, more homeowners will be liable to pay for the cost of home helps and carers provided by the council.

It is better news for the elderly in residential care, whose homes are already included in calculations of their assets. It means they will now only have to pay for their care until they have remaining assets of £100,000, instead of £23,500. There are no details on when the policy would be implemented, but it is likely that it would require consultation and legislation.

The Conservatives will also say they plan to do more to integrate the NHS and social care, stop unnecessary stays in hospitals, and examine how to make better use of technology to help people live independently for longer. An additional measure to help family carers will be a new right to request unpaid leave from work to look after a relative for up to a year.

May will hope the measures address deep concerns about the long-term costs of funding social care, which have been having a knock-on effect on the NHS as more elderly people stay in hospital.

On Thursday, doctors’ leaders will accuse ministers of a “callous disregard” of the NHS and putting its funding into “deep freeze”. The British Medical Association will call on ministers to plug “the enormous funding gap” in healthcare spending between Britain and other major European countries.

May said at a press conference on Wednesday that the manifesto would seek to address five major challenges, in an echo of social reformer William Beveridge’s five “giant evils”.

The social care announcement is likely to get a mixed reception, as some Conservatives will worry about it going down badly with middle-class voters who want to pass on the value of their homes to their children.

May is already under pressure from some on the right of her party over interventionist policies, such as her pledge to cap energy costs for households. Previous attempts to reform the funding of social care have met with deep hostility from the rightwing press, which branded Labour proposals for a levy on estates a “death tax”.

Her decision to include a measure that could be unpopular with middle-aged and elderly voters is likely to be taken as a sign of confidence in winning the election, given the Tories’ double-digit lead in the polls over Labour. Strategists also hope it will paint the prime minister as a realist and pragmatist in contrast to Labour’s manifesto promising more spending on public services paid for by higher taxes on companies and high earners.

Other measures in the manifesto are likely to include proposals on improving skills and apprenticeships, and a promised expansion of workers’ rights, which Labour has dismissed as spin.

The document is also likely to retain the Conservative commitment to bringing down immigration to the tens of thousands from hundreds of thousands. That approach was challenged on Wednesday by a leader in the Evening Standard newspaper, edited by the former chancellor George Osborne, which claimed that no senior cabinet ministers support May’s desire to keep the target.

In a leader column, the newspaper said there had been an assumption at the top of the Conservative party that May would use the election to “bury the pledge” made by David Cameron before he was elected in 2010 because it was unachievable and undesirable. “That’s what her cabinet assumed; none of its senior members supports the pledge in private and all would be glad to see the back of something that has caused the Conservative party such public grief,” the newspaper said.

Editorials are written anonymously as the voice of the newspaper, but Osborne tweeted a link to the column and the front page of the Evening Standard, which attributes a squeeze in the cost of living to inflation caused by Brexit.

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