Older voters turning away from the Tories as Boris Johnson ignores social care crisis: Andrew Vine

Boris Johnson is yet to produce a credible policy on social care, argues columnist Andrew Vine. Picture: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Boris Johnson is yet to produce a credible policy on social care, argues columnist Andrew Vine. Picture: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
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THERE is a body of voters in our midst that our Prime Minister, rocketing around the country making grandiose pledges, has completely overlooked. And they could be about to give him a nasty shock.

They are older people, some in care, others still independent but aware that in the fullness of time managing in their own homes may become too much and it will be easier to let somebody else take the strain.

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And those I’m meeting are planning to vote either Labour or Lib Dem because they don’t see the Conservatives having the slightest concern for them.

This struck me when I visited an aunt who has recently gone into care, and got into conversation with a dozen other residents. Every single one of them has a vote – which they will exercise by post – and none of them like the Tories.

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Same thing when I gave a friend a lift to his retirement group, stopped for a cup of tea with them, and wasn’t in the slightest bit surprised to find a roomful of very engaged and savvy people who were right on top of every issue and quick to spot the glaring gap in the Tories’ election pitch – social care.

That’s bad news for a party which could traditionally rely on the support of older people, but appears to have forgotten that they are exceptionally well-informed, spending a lot of time reading the papers and watching or listening to the news.

Hype and soundbites don’t sway them, because their vast experience of life tells them quite clearly when a slippery politician is trying to pull the wool over their eyes.

And what they have read, seen, heard and decided is that the Conservatives are saying nothing on social care and its costs in the hope that nobody will notice. But they have.

To the people I was talking to, this is a matter of the first importance because care is costly and there is a widely-held feeling that it is akin to a penalty for having saved.

After lifetimes of work, taxes and national insurance, these are disgruntled voters, all of them as conscientious now about exercising their right to have a say on how the country is run as ever.

And they are resentful of the fact that savings and the proceeds of selling their homes are not going to be passed on to children and grandchildren, as was always intended, but will dwindle week by week on care costs.

There is also the worry of what happens when the money runs out.

The Conservatives have never made up ground with this body of older voters since the disastrous election campaign of two years ago when Theresa May crashed and burned over her so-called “dementia tax”.

That looked to people thinking about their possible care needs for the future as if they were being regarded as cash cows to be milked for every penny when at their most vulnerable.

Since then, the Government has repeatedly delayed a long-promised green paper on social care, blaming the all-consuming tangle over Brexit. The care crisis was underlined again yesterday by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which warned billions more needs to be put into the system.

Important though Brexit is for many older people who voted to leave the EU, the pressing concerns of their own lives and futures loom equally large in their minds.

Immigration controls or the pernicious influence of the European Court of Justice suddenly pale into insignificance next to the need for help with washing, dressing and cooking, or support in caring for a husband or wife who has dementia.

Their attention and support has been caught by Labour’s pledge of free personal care for the over-65s and disabled adults. The promise that this will be paid for out of general taxation especially strikes a chord, because it answers a rhetorical question I have heard increasingly often - “What have I paid taxes for all my life if I can’t get help when I need it?”

No answer to that has been forthcoming from the Conservatives, despite Boris Johnson promising to fix social care when he came to office.

He’s gone strangely quiet on the subject since then, and if he attacks Labour’s plans on the grounds of profligacy, that could look unpleasantly like turning his back on elderly people who need and deserve help.

Loudly-proclaimed support for the NHS doesn’t answer these voters’ concerns about care and what the future holds if they become frail. They have nothing but praise for the health service.

For those who have experienced hospital stays, it is what happens when they are sent home that worries them because there is often insufficient help with basic needs and many have stories of struggling to cope.

The older voters I know are feeling forgotten by the Conservatives, and the reminder that they exist could prove very uncomfortable for the party.