UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Picture: BLOOMBERG
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Picture: BLOOMBERG

Boris Johnson provoked more unrest among members of his Conservative Party as he pushed through changes to social care funding that could mean the UK’s poorest are forced to sell their homes to pay for support.

MPs narrowly approved an amendment to the government’s flagship health and social care legislation, which it has said fixes the country’s “broken” system and will ensure fewer elderly people have to sell their assets to receive care. It will be funded by a £12bn tax hike.

But critics say the tweak to how a lifetime cap on care costs is calculated, announced with little fanfare last week, has undermined the benefit of the plan especially for poorer people. Critically for Johnson, some Tory MPs in northern and Midlands districts have realised their constituents may be among the hardest hit.

Though Johnson won by a 272-246 margin, it is another sign that his Conservatives are becoming harder to control. Many are still angry about his handling of an ethics dispute involving a former Tory minister, while his scaled-back railway programme for northern England announced last week affects some of the areas that will now be hit by the social care change.

“There is no doubt that the way the cap works for those with more modest assets is less generous,” Kevin Hollinrake, Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton in North Yorkshire, said in parliament before the vote. “How can that be fair?”

Other Tory MPs called on the government to urgently publish an impact assessment on the plans, to determine exactly who would be hardest hit. 

Health minister Edward Argar promised this would come before the legislation reaches its final approval stage. “No-one will lose from these reforms compared to the system we have now, and the overwhelming majority will win,” Argar said.

The social care plans will now be scrutinised in the House of Lords, where peers could still overturn the controversial measure. The row centres on the new cap, which guarantees people would never have to pay more than £86,000 in care costs.

It had been thought that costs paid by local government to poorer households would count towards the cap, but a policy paper published last week revealed it would not. That means people will have to keep paying their own care costs for much longer before they hit this ceiling. 

The change risks disproportionately affecting voters in the north of England and Midlands, where house prices are generally lower yet pensioners will pay for care up to the same cap as wealthier people in other areas.

Labour’s shadow health minister, Justin Madders, called the move a “reverse Robin Hood” and said it proved Johnson’s “levelling up” pledge to bring prosperity to all areas of the UK was a “con trick”.

The premier had defended the move earlier Monday, telling reporters it was “much more generous than any previous system” because “for the first time there is a limit on the cost you can be asked to pay.”

Bloomberg News. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

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