Care costs cap: Ex-health secretary Jeremy Hunt abstained from social care vote as ‘not as good as I hoped for’

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Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt abstained from voting on a change to social care funding as he told Sky News “it’s not as good as I hoped for”.

Mr Hunt, now chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, was one of dozens of Conservative MPs who did not vote in favour of an amendment to how the promised £86,000 lifetime cap on care costs is reached.

Nineteen Tory MPs voted against the change, but it was ultimately voted through despite critics arguing the move will disproportionately affect the poorest recipients of care.

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MPs voted 272 to 246, a majority of 26, to add the controversial proposal to the Health and Care Bill.

Mr Hunt told Sky News’ Kay Burley: “I abstained on that vote actually because I think what is planned is a big improvement on what we have now, but it’s not as good as I hoped for.

“The current system means that your assets have to go down to just £23,000 before you get any help with your care costs.

“What will happen now is you’ll get help when your assets fall below £100,000 so there are many people on low incomes that will benefit from the new system but it’s just not quite as generous as the system I took through parliament in 2014 that was never enacted. So I felt the appropriate thing to do was to abstain.”

What are the changes and why could they be unfair?

In September the government announced a new £86,000 cap on the amount anyone in England should have to pay for social care.

People with less than £20,000 in assets – value of their home, savings or investments – will not have to pay anything towards their care, which is up from £14,250.

Those with assets between £20,000 and £100,000 will also now be eligible for new means-tested financial support from their local councils to help with the cost of their care.

This is calculated by taking into account how much income you have – and whether you are nearer the £20,000 lower limit or £100,000 upper limit.

In the original proposal by Sir Andrew Dilnot, which the government adopted as the basis of its social care reform, this means-tested support would count towards a cap on care costs.

But changes announced last week revealed means-tested payments from your local council will not count towards the £86,000 cap.

This has led to accusations it will be unfair on poorer people and those who live in areas where homes are worth less.

For example, if you have a home worth £106,000, you would qualify for the new means-tested system once your care costs go above £6,000.

However, those council payments do not count towards the £86,000 cap, which means when the person dies that amount could still need to be paid for from their estate.

Because the £86,000 cap is universal, someone with a house worth £106,000 and long-term social care needs costing hundreds of thousands of pounds, could end up having their estate reduced to just £20,000.

In contrast, someone in exactly the same position with a £500,000 house would be able to leave a much greater proportion of their assets – £414,000 – to their next of kin.

Mr Hunt added that the amendment does not help people receiving care protect their assets “as much as people like me had hoped” but admitted he thinks it will become the law in its present form and hopes the government will look at it again later on.

The change means only the amount an individual personally pays towards their care costs will count towards the £86,000 cap, not anything local authorities contribute.

People with assets of between £20,000 and £100,000 will be eligible for help and critics have said the new detail means it will take longer for those people to reach the cap, so they could still end up having to use up their savings or sell their home to pay for care.

And they say it means the richest will see a greater share of their assets protected.

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Labour MP insists rich must pay more

Labour MP Sarah Owen accused the Conservatives of breaking their promise that nobody would have to sell their home to pay for care but failed to explain how her party would fund social care.

Ms Owen, vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Adult Social Care, said Labour would bring in taxes so the wealthiest would bear the brunt of having to pay for social care while the poorest would have the least to lose.

However, she failed to provide details of exactly how Labour would tax the wealthiest and would not say if her party would fund free personal care in England, as promised in its 2019 manifesto – costed at £6bn a year at the time.

After being repeatedly asked how Labour would tax the wealthiest, Ms Owen told Sky News: “I think people with income they get from wealth from shareholders, from pensions, dividends, those sort of things.

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“And I think that would look like people on modest incomes and households not having to sell the majority of their assets.

“I think those with the biggest incomes should have to pay for it.

“When we are talking about a wealth tax, there are many ways of doing it, but ultimately we should be focused on making this the fairest way possible.”

She added that Labour would look at taxing big companies like Amazon but could not say exactly how.

Economist Sir Andrew Dilnot, who proposed a cap on costs 10 years ago, said the latest change will mean that poorer recipients of care will be hit the hardest.

“It would mean those who are less well off will hit the cap after much longer than those who are better off and will end up having to spend, if they have a long care journey, as much of their own money as people who are much better off,” he told Sky News.

But the prime minister has defended the plans, saying they address a “long-standing social injustice” that has seen those who suffer from conditions like dementia facing “catastrophic” care costs.

“Under the existing system, nobody gets any support if they have assets of £23,000 or more. Now you get support if you have £100,000 or less, so we are helping people,” Mr Johnson said.

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