Social care may well prove to be Alexander Boris de Pfeffel’s Johnson’s Waterloo, and deservedly so. Out of the blue, less than a week before parliament was to vote on the matter, Number 10 tabled a new proposal (New Clause 49 to the Health and Care Bill) on the social care cap. It significantly watered down what the prime minister had earlier pledged and the promise the Tories had been elected on in their 2019 general election manifesto.
To recap, Boris Johnson had pledged that nobody would have to sell their house to fund their social care. Under the new rules, it looks as if poorer home-owners will have little choice but to do just that:
- From October 2023, people will no longer pay more than £86,000 towards their care during their lifetime.
- The £86,000 cap, only covers personal care, such as help washing or dressing. It does not cover living costs such as food, energy bills or accommodation. (Previously, the government were set to allow council support payments to count towards the cap, but out of the blue they have changes their minds on that.)
- After people reach the £86,000 cap, personal care will be paid for by local authorities. (Hence the recent more than 10 per cent increase in National Insurance, putting it up by 1.25 percentage points from 12 per cent to 13.25 per cent from April 2022 to raise £36 billion to fund social care, amongst other things.)
- People with assets under £20,000 won’t have to contribute to care costs (compared with £14,250 now). However, they might have to contribute from their income.
- Those with between £20,000 and £100,000 in assets can get help towards costs from their local council. This is means-tested, so depends on income and assets. (Assets are things you own, like a house, investments or savings.)
While this scheme is better than having no cap at all, it is regressive, as it is not based on a taking a percentage of everyone’s wealth, but rather on taking the same fixed amount of £86,000 from everyone. This could be all of a poor person’s estate, while a rich person would keep almost all of their wealth. It perpetuates wealth disparities across the generations and locks in privilege for the better off. To give concrete examples, Health Foundation Modelling has calculated:
£20,000 (i.e. not £100,000 — £86,000 = £14,000, because first £20,000 is protected)
ALL MPs should have voted against the government purely because it had rushed out this new proposal and failed to provide an impact assessment before the vote. That is neither respectful of our parliament, not good governance. It was another nail in the coffin of our democracy, which is dying a death by a thousand cuts under Johnson’s administration. The majority of MPs failed to take this opportunity to “discipline” Number 10. After all, it was low risk as the Bill has not completed all of its stages yet and it was a vitally important message to send to the arrogant executive branch of government.
Indeed, Mel Stride, MP for Central Devon and Chair of the Treasury Select Committee, made a speech to this effect:
“It seems to me that to make good law in this place, first, we need time to consider the matters put before us and secondly, we need the appropriate information upon which to take those decisions. On both those points, I have real concerns about how new clause 49 has been brought forward. The first we heard of it was not in Committee or in September when the general measures were put forward, including the taxation measures on which we all divided and voted, but on Wednesday evening, when the amendment was tabled.
It was fortuitous that the Treasury Committee happened to have Sir Andrew Dilnot before us the very next day. We were able to discuss many of the issues inherent in new clause 49. A number of issues were raised, to which only the Government have the answers. One of them has been put forward powerfully by speaker after speaker tonight, which is: what are the impact assessments associated with these measures? I wrote to the Chancellor immediately after that session and asked him for some impact assessments, including geographical impact assessments, of which we have had none.”
Ultimately Mr Stride voted for the ill-thought-out amendment on the basis that it was better than no cap at all. Another face-palm moment.
Anne Marie Morris, MP for Newton Abbot, backed the suggestion of Mark Harper, MP for and a former Chief Whip, that the Department for Health and Social Care drop the amendment and wait until the sector and MPs had been fully consulted in the run up to the White Paper on social care due at the end of this year. She at least abstained in the vote.
Voted against (hurrah!):
Ben Bradshaw, Exeter
Luke Pollard, Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport
No vote recorded:
Sir Christopher Chope, Christchurch
Richard Drax, South Dorset
Tobias Ellwood, Bournemouth East
Marcus Fysh, Yeovil
James Heappey, Wells
Johnny Mercer, Plymouth, Moor View
Anne Marie Morris, Newton Abbot
Sheryll Murray, South East Cornwall
Neil Parish, Tiverton and Honiton
Selaine Saxby, North Devon
Voted for (boo):
Conor Burns, Bournemouth West
Sir Geoffrey Cox, Torridge and West Devon
George Eustice, Camborne and Redruth
Kevin Foster, Torbay
Liam Fox, North Somerset
Simon Hoare, North Dorset
Simon Jupp, East Devon
Ian Liddell-Grainger, Bridgwater and West Somerset
Chris Loder, West Dorset
Cherilyn Mackrory, Truro and Falmouth
Anthony Mangnall, Totnes
Scott Mann, North Cornwall
John Penrose, Weston-super-Mare
Rebecca Pow, Taunton Deane
Jacob Rees-Mogg, North East Somerset
Sir Gary Streeter, South West Devon
Mel Stride, Central Devon
Sir Robert Syms, Poole
Derek Thomas, St Ives
Michael Tomlinson, Mid Dorset and North Poole
David Warburton, Somerton and Frome
‘Noes’ Teller: Steve Double, St Austell and Newquay
Odd, isn’t it, that Sir Geoffrey Cox has been ‘absent’, busy doing his other job as a highly-paid barrister, and voting by proxy and that when he finally condescends to put in an appearance in parliament it is to vote to make poor people even poorer? First he voted to make pensioners poorer by abolishing the triple lock, and now in favour of a measure that greatly benefits the rich while hammering the poor. I wonder if he was one of the Tory MPs who dashed back to the Commons from the £35,000-a-head Tory Winter Ball to vote to once more level inexorably down?
Johnson may have won this battle, but he has not won the war. If the Health and Care Bill passes its third reading — and it will, due to the massive government majority, then it will go to the Lords. Given the government only won with a majority of 26, when on paper he has a majority of 80, the Lords will undoubtedly be emboldened. Such a narrow margin of victory betokens significant disquiet in the Tory ranks. Besides, several Peers have signalled that they will seek to amend it, disgusted as they are by the government’s behaviour over the social care cap in particular, and worried that the Bill gives a green-light to more aggressive privatization (which has already been occurring by stealth).
Don’t lose hope! We need to make at least as much noise about this as we did over raw sewage being pumped into our rivers and seas. Continue corresponding with your constituency MPs, supporting campaigns like Take Back Britain and Every Doctor, and consider writing to a Lord or two. You can write to as many Lords as you like, as you are not restricted to a specific constituency or ministry, as you are with an MP.