Prime Minister backtracks on social care as Labour close in

Picture by Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire .
Picture by Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire .

THERESA MAY’S election campaign suffered its first serious setback after narrowing polls and warnings from Conservative candidates forced her into a major U-turn on her flagship manifesto pledge today.

Mrs May had to defend herself against suggestions that her offer of a cap on social care costs undermined her claim to offer voters “strong and stable leadership”.

The Prime Minister used the launch of the Welsh Conservative manifesto to reinstate an upper limit on the amount that anyone will have to pay for care in old age just four days after the party dumped the idea.

The move came as two polls pointed to Labour enjoying a five-point boost following both major parties’ manifesto launches last week and Conservative activists reported Mrs May’s plans for social care and means-testing the winter fuel allowance had confused voters.

One Conservative candidate said: “We have had a lot of people getting in touch about the winter fuel allowance. I think the presentation of both polices has been poor.

“In my constituency it has single-handedly resuscitated the Labour campaign.”

Another said: “People recognise the fairness element of the fuel allowance policy but the social care policy hasn’t been properly sold.

“The overriding view is that it’s not a deal-breaker that will make people vote for Corbyn instead, but they’re not entirely happy about it, even if they understand that it has to be paid for somehow.”

Conservative activists from across Yorkshire confirmed both issues had been raised in weekend canvassing with complaints focused as much on the lack of detail on the policies as on the principles behind them.

The Conservatives last week insisted their plan to guarantee older people would retain £100,000 in assets was fairer than the social care cap suggested by an independent commission led by economist Sir Andrew Dilnot.

But the policy was branded a “dementia tax” because it put no upper limit on the amount people could be charged for their care.

Mrs May yesterday said the already-promised Green Paper on social care would consult on an “absolute limit on the amount people have to pay” but insisted “nothing has changed”.

She said: “We have not changed the principles of the policies we set out in our manifesto. Those policies remain exactly the same.

“What we have done, which other parties have signally failed to do, is to recognise the challenge that we face, to respect the needs and concerns of the British people and to provide a long-term plan for sustainable social care which means that elderly people in this country won’t have to worry about how their social care will be paid for in the future.”

Former Hull MP and deputy prime minister Lord Prescott was today campaigning with Jeremy Corbyn as the Labour leader visited the city and Scarborough.

He said: “All her life is about U-turns. She’s standing as ‘could be relied on’, stable and trustworthy; I think the people have got the real measure of this woman – you can’t trust her. Did the Cabinet discuss it? No. Did the parliament discuss it? No. Did their party discuss it? No. Just ‘me, me, me’ and she’s the only one that does a U-turn on her own thing.”

A poll by Survation published yesterday showed Labour up five percentage points to 34 per cent while ICM had the party also up five points to 33 per cent.

Tonight Mrs May insisted her party is “committed” to curbing immigration to the tens of thousands despite claims that she did not have the backing of the Cabinet.

The Prime Minister dismissed comments in an editorial in the London Evening Standard, edited by former chancellor George Osborne, which said no top ministers supported the Tory target.

She added: “We have brought in new rules. We’ve ruled out a lot of abuse that was taking place in the system.”