The Government’s long-awaited social care plans have been delayed until the autumn after Boris Johnson and the key cabinet ministers behind the package were forced to self-isolate due to Covid-19.
Negotiations between the Prime Minister, Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, and Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, over the shape of a deal were expected by Cabinet ministers as recently as last weekend to lead to an announcement in Parliament on Wednesday or Thursday.
But with Mr Javid testing positive for coronavirus at the weekend, and the PM and Sunak having to quarantine, the final stage of the talks has been dramatically disrupted and a decision has been taken to hold off until later this year.
Sir Andrew Dilnot, who drew up the original plans for social care reform a decade ago, said on Wednesday night that it would be “a tragedy” if no deal could be reached and called on ministers to “find the political will” to make it happen.
He told The Telegraph: “If this delay were to turn into another kicking in the long grass and we weren’t to see what’s been promised, which is fully, fully worked on planned by the end of this calendar year, that would be a tragedy.
“It’s been 10 years almost to the week since the commission I chaired reported. I think we’ve got pretty much a consensus on the sorts of things that we talked about then, which is a fairer means test, insurance.
“Waiting a few more weeks for a package that really sorts of sorts everything else that seems fine, and these things aren’t simple … but it’s 23 years since the report of the Royal Commission on Social Care, and six years since the then Conservative government pulled the plug on a set of reforms that are remarkably like this.”
He said: “Every month tens of thousands of people become dependent on the social care system – and that’s what really matters. What really matters in terms of delay is the risk of blighting another generation of people who need care.”
The three Cabinet ministers are understood to have discussed the plans at a Downing Street meeting last Friday afternoon, 24 hours before Mr Javid found he had contracted Covid-19, forcing Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak to self-isolate for a week.
Reports said that Mr Johnson was close to approving an extra one per cent on National Insurance Contributions to help cover the £10 billion cost of capping social care costs at £50,000.
However, Conservative MPs were furious not least because it would break a pledge at the 2019 general election which said: “We promise not to raise the rates of income tax, National Insurance or VAT. This is a tax guarantee that will protect the incomes of hard-working families across the next Parliament.”
Former minister David Jones MP said: “We need to be very cautious about this. There is already a developing narrative that the younger generation are being asked to give continued support to the older generation while they themselves have been badly affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The Government needs to be very cautious before going down that route.”
Another Tory who asked not to be named said: “It is probably the most unfair way they could fund long-term care – people above retirement age who are still working will not pay anything towards it.”
Mike Cherry, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, warned a tax hike like this would make it harder for smaller companies to hire new staff.
He said: “Employers are weighing up decisions as we speak about who they can afford to keep on in the long term as the job retention scheme winds down – the last thing the Government should be doing is increasing the risk of an unemployment spike.”
Torsten Bell, the chief executive of the Resolution Foundation, warned: “It’s a tax disproportionately loaded on to younger and lower-paid workers, compared to a fairer rise in income tax.”
Mr Johnson is yet to produce a plan to tackle the social care crisis which he trumpeted on the steps of Downing St when he became Prime Minister two years ago this weekend.
A Number 10 spokesman said it was “committed to bringing forward a long-term plan to reform the social care system and we will set out proposals later this year”.