General election: Tories under fire for shelving social care plan in wake of May’s 2017 campaign catastrophe

The Conservatives have come under fire for kicking social care policy into the long grass over after it emerged a long-awaited overhaul of vital care has been left out of the party’s manifesto.

Scarred by the disastrous “dementia tax” policy which derailed Theresa May’s 2017 campaign, Matt Hancock announced £1bn a year to fund the sector over the next five years but delayed making any firm decisions until cross-party consensus could be found in parliament. 

The health secretary guaranteed that no one would lose their home to pay for care, but failed to go further, saying the issue was too important to be politicised in the “heat of a hyper partisan campaign”.

Charities and social care providers have sounded the alarm on the precarious state of the sector, as an ageing population and increased demand heaps pressure on the creaking system.

It comes after repeated delays to the publication of the social care green paper, a critical document that Mr Hancock declared ready to go over a year ago.

The heath secretary is understood to favour a German-style plan for all workers over the age of 40, including pensioners, to pay a new ring-fenced tax for social care.

However he shifted away from any moves that might alarm voters, instead pledging a £5bn cash injection for social care over the next parliament and vowing to ensure people can keep their homes.

Writing in the Daily Mail, Mr Hancock said: “So rather than play politics with social care, the second point of our plan will be to urgently work across parliament to find a cross-party consensus that addresses the significant and complex challenges we face.

“This process will begin as soon as the next parliament is established, and we will bring forward an answer that solves the problem, commands the widest possible support, and stands the test of time.

“We will consider a range of options, but we will have one red line: we will protect the family home.”

The move drew accusations the government had failed to come up with a plan and was merely pushing for “further delay”.

Hugh Alderwick, assistant director of policy at the Health Foundation, said the system was “failing some of the most vulnerable people in society” and needed “fundamental reform”.

“The government repeatedly promised then delayed proposals on social care reform since 2017 – and Boris Johnson promised to ‘fix the crisis in social care once and for all’ in his first speech as prime minister,” he said.

“Yet reports emerging this morning suggest that the Conservative party does not have a plan for social care reform beyond establishing a cross party commission.

“While cross party consensus will be critical to any reform succeeding, there is a clear risk that there will be further delay and no hard decisions taken for the future. Meanwhile more and more people will go without the care they need.”

It would be “impossible to judge what the trade-offs may be” for protecting people’s homes, he added.

Barbara Keeley, shadow care minister, said: “The Conservatives’ pledge on social care appears to be a plan to develop a plan, raising more questions than answers. You cannot trust them to fix the crisis in social care.”

Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary, repeatedly refused to accept the calls for cross-party consensus, telling the Today programme: “The Conservatives can work with us when we have a Labour government on December 13.”

Lib Dem health spokesperson Luciana Berger told The Independent: “Matt Hancock’s un-costed suggestions for ‘long-term’ plans are too little, too late and don’t tackle the challenge. Under the Conservatives, our NHS and social care services are in a state of crisis.

“Waiting times for GP appointments and in A&E are up, and health inequalities are widening nationally. 

“The Liberal Democrats have long advocated for cross-party working to address the health and social care crisis. We also have a clear plan to raise an extra £7 billion a year by putting an extra penny on income tax, ringfenced for spending specifically on the NHS and social care.”

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