Theresa May’s u-turn on social care made her look weak and unstable

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May 23, 2017 by Paul Goldsmith


One of the reasons I thought that Theresa May wanted to call the snap election was that she felt held back from governing by the 2015 Conservative election manifesto. After yesterday it seems she also felt held back by the 2017 Conservative election manifesto, even though she wrote it.

Political journalists of a certain age have been racking their brains to try to remember a bigger U-turn on a manifesto pledge during an election campaign than the one that Theresa May made yesterday over social care costs.

In the manifesto last week the Tories changed the rules around funding social care (care in old age). The previous system took no notice of the value of someone’s home and said that people had to pay for their own care in a residential home until they get down to their last £23,500. The Conservatives’ system includes the cost of care in a person’s own home, the assets that can be used to pay for them now INCLUDE the value of their home, but their descendants will be guaranteed to inherit £100,000. Crucially for what happened yesterday, the manifesto did not mention a cap on the costs of care and didn’t mention any ‘consultation’ on the proposals. The lack of cap meant buying insurance for your social care costs would be made a lot more difficult, as the insurance companies would have little idea what their exposure would be.

Senior Cabinet Ministers were sent out to defend this policy over the weekend. In the face of jibes over the ‘dementia tax’ (cancer treatment would come under Nhs and so be free but dementia would be under social care so have to be paid for), Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt insisted that the cap on care costs would definitely not be there. Others pointed out that the previous rules allowed someone who owned a £2 million home to pay the same as someone with a £200,000 home and the taxpayer picks up the tab, which meant the proposals were ‘fairer’ in that they effectively taxed wealth. On Sunday morning, Damian Green insisted there were ‘no plans’ to look again at the funding model. May-supporting newspapers were divided, as many have older readers, but some noted her honesty with the electorate in saying hard decisions would be needed.

Labour spent the weekend making hay with this proposal. Buoyed by an uplift in polls, which was partly due to Lib Dem woes over leader and manifesto that anything else, the party trumpeted their policy of hurling money at any problem. This effectively meant they were speaking on a pro-inheritance ticket, which goes against their political principles. Once again, attacking Tories came first ahead of those principles.

Then, astonishingly, came a U-turn. Strong and Stable? Not any more. A safe pair of hands at the negotiating table? Not if she meets too much opposition. Citing Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘fake’ claims (which in today’s political parlance means ‘negative views about something that I have said or done’), May announced that a cap would be imposed (although she wouldn’t say what it would be set at). They would also be consulting on the ‘floor’ of £100,000.

The best that can be said of this is that if you are going to U-turn on policy, do it fast. But this was shambolic. May insisted, ill-temperedly during questioning, that nothing has changed, but it has. The manifesto clearly said there wouldn’t be a cap, and her Cabinet Ministers were sent out to explicitly say there wouldn’t be a cap. May has quite clearly capitulated, and seems to be trying to cover that up in way that has a rather loose association with the truth.

In fact, yesterday, Theresa May looked rather weak, and unstable. Not a good look if your entire election campaign is based on the opposite.

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