Is Theresa May strong and stable?
The general consensus on Monday, after Theresa May’s U-turn on social care, was that “this election is [not] boring.” May’s announcement that the Tories would cap social care costs after the Tory manifesto backlash, inflicted a huge blow to May’s reputation. The Daily Mail described the “U-turn” as a “manifesto meltdown” but May repeatedly said that “nothing has changed” from her previous plan. She was described by reports as “weak and wobbly” and of having created a “manifesto of chaos.”
The PM changed her mind after the uproar surrounding the Tory Manifesto policy about charging more pensioners for care. The measure was called a “dementia tax” even by newspapers supportive of May because the homes of sufferers would need to be sold to pay their bills after their deaths.
The Conservative manifesto proposed certain social care changes which caused a strong reaction, especially by older Conservative supporters. May’s opponents dubbed her pledge the “dementia tax”, a proposal that would see many seniors’ houses sold off to pay for care instead of passing it on to their family and children. The Conservatives promised that their social care plans will “provide proper care and protection for all those who need it,” but their new plans suggest that more people would need to pay for their own care when they are older. Their policy means that wealthier people with more than £100,000 will have to pay for their own care from the value of their homes once they passed away. A person’s home, with the exception of the first £100,000, will be claimable by the state.
Under the current system, older people who have assets more than £23,250, including the value of their property, must part-fund the cost of their care.
By changing the policy and introducing a cap on the amount people pay for their care is a significant U-turn for May. For example, if the maximum amount is only a few thousand more than the minimum then that would be an improvement, but if it’s more money, then this might mean that the policy hasn’t changed much.
Speaking at a campaign event in the Welsh city of Wrexham, on Monday, May clarified and rephrased her social care policy by saying that there will be an absolute limit on the amount of money people have to pay for their care costs. However, it wasn’t clear whether the U-turn would make things easier for pensioners or how the costs would be paid for.
She said that:
“We are proposing the right funding model for social care. We will make sure nobody has to sell their family home to pay for care. We will make sure there’s an absolute limit on what people need to pay. And you will never have to go below £100,000 of your savings, so you will always have something to pass on to your family.”
According to political commentators, the embarrassment of yesterday’s announcement undermined the Conservative party’s financial aptitude. The Guardian reported that the Tories didn’t give any indication “as to what level the cap will be imposed at” and pointed out that if Labour ever made policy in “such a costings vacuum” they “would be crucified.” The newspaper added: “Imposing a cap on social care costs will significantly increase the costs of social care, probably by a matter of billions per year over the next decade. But we don’t know by how much, because the Tories never gave any indication of how much their plans were expected to raise when they announced them last week, and they are not giving any clue as to what level the cap will be imposed at.”
In addition, May’s mistake to accuse Jeremy Corbyn of making “fake claims” has also damaged her position and made her appear “dishonest.” Her Pinocchio moment happened when she said that Corbyn falsely criticised the Tory manifesto. But, Corbyn’s interpretation of the Tory manifesto’s “dementia tax” wasn’t wrong since he never claimed that people would lose their homes while still alive.
Theresa May’s defence
When May was interviewed by the BBC’s Andrew Neil she argued that she was being honest with voters and that there was no U-turn.
She insisted that the policy remained the same despite the cap on social care costs which didn’t make it in the initial manifesto. She argued that Corbyn didn’t affect her decision, despite saying that he was spreading fake lies. In general, she reiterated that the Tories want low taxes but didn’t say clearly whether there will be any rises in income tax and national insurance.
Corbyn welcomed the U-turn and said that the country needs “to face up to its responsibilities to those who need care, either frail elderly, those with special needs, those with severe disabilities, those with learning difficulties.”
But for May nothing has changed. On the contrary, she has responded to the controversial Tory manifesto pledge by offering a sustainable solution to the problem of social care. As Margaret Thatcher said in her speech to the Conservative Party Conference in 1980, “The lady’s not for turning.”