Boris Johnson is facing a showdown with Conservative peers in the House of Lords who will attempt to force his social care reforms back to the Commons, where the government suffered a significant rebellion on Monday night.
The former health secretary Jeremy Hunt confirmed he abstained on the vote over concerns that funding changes would hit poorer households in areas with lower house prices.
Hunt, who chairs the Commons health select committee, said he wanted the government to think again. “I was conflicted, I actually ended up abstaining because it is a big disappointment that they changed the way the cap is calculated,” he told the BBC. But he said the social care plan itself was a “step forward”.
The government narrowly won the vote to change a key aspect of its social care plan which means that council contributions to care fees would not go towards the cap.
That means poorer people who get means-tested help would end up paying the same as richer people if they needed care for a significant amount of time. It would save the government £900m a year by 2027, but would leave many poorer homeowners exposed to “catastrophic costs” including the need to sell their homes to fund care, analysts have said.
Hunt said the change “won’t protect the assets of as many people as we had hoped for … We should still remember that for the poorest people they will get more help, earlier, than they currently get.”
Several influential Conservative peers including Lord Lansley, another former Conservative health secretary, and Lady Altmann, the government’s former pensions adviser, have said they will attempt to amend the bill and send it back to the Commons.
The health and social care bill is expected to pass the Commons on Tuesday and go to the Lords. The number of abstentions from discontented MPs in the Commons on Monday is likely to worry government whips if peers return an amended bill to the Commons.
Altmann told the Telegraph it was “rushed” to make the changes before the full paper on social care reform was published. “People are being rushed into it. It’s half baked and not very well thought through.”
Crossbencher Baroness Finlay said the Lords will scrutinise the government’s social care reforms “very, very carefully”.
The professor of palliative medicine told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It may be that we will say to the Commons, ‘can you think again?’, it may be that we come up with constructive amendments to improve what is on the table at the moment because, clearly, there’s a lot of disquiet.”
Number 10 sought to reassure MPs on Monday as the rebellion grew by pledging to publish an impact assessment on the changes and give full details of the care reforms – but not in time for the vote.
In the Commons on Monday night, a total of 18 Conservative rebels voted against the government and 68 Tory MPs were absent. Labour sources told the Guardian just 13 were paired – meaning they were given official permission to be absent – suggesting dozens of MPs intentionally abstained.
Among those who rebelled were a number of 2019 intake MPs from northern seats whose constituents are likely to be hit hard by the changes. They include Scunthorpe’s Holly Mumby-Croft, Christian Wakeford of Bury South and Workington’s Mark Jenkinson.