Theresa May faces humiliating defeat over social care as Boris Johnson is forced to withdraw from the government bill with his amendment due to be debated on Tuesday, the Observer can reveal.
MPs are expected to reject the entire government social care legislation on Tuesday, with 11 out of the 14 amendments the Foreign Secretary had tabled to the bill defeated by an overall majority of 11.
Johnson’s intervention marks a significant rebellion against May’s policy of capping the amount people pay for their social care at £72,000, triggered by the burning fury of MPs at previous government proposals that would have imposed limits of £35,000 on patients and £35,000 on their carers, equating to less than £40 a day.
The government’s care bill, which also includes proposals to prevent councils from axing social care budgets as a result of the cap, has been described as the “most divisive” issues facing the government by opposition MPs.
Responding to Johnson’s proposal to increase the cap to £100,000, or even £120,000, the prime minister argued that care was too important to be placed in the “too hard basket”.
“I don’t think that is how you fund the essential social care of all our older people and their families,” May said, in a reference to the promise of free primary education made by Margaret Thatcher as a Tory leadership contender in 1983. “I think we’ve got to have a more joined-up approach.”
Proposals by Johnson to raise the cap were defeated on Thursday by 177 votes, with the shadow health secretary, Jon Ashworth, saying the amendment “merely gave the government cover to an unworkable plan”.
But Johnson withdrew his amendments on Saturday after admitting defeat on Thursday but still refusing to drop them and yesterday threw in the towel in an attempt to resolve the issue.
Downing Street said May had worked with the Treasury on ways of increasing social care funding and highlighted the chancellor, Philip Hammond, telling MPs that “we will put in place a large increase in funding” at his spring budget.
But Ashworth said he could not imagine the government could find the £2bn-£3bn it would take to increase the cap to £100,000.
May’s most senior allies are privately expressing confidence that she will win the final vote, but they are believed to be uncomfortable about the huge success of Johnson’s amendments and believe a change in tone was needed from the chancellor. Hammond is also fearful that the social care debate could erupt into a full-blown rebellion on health and social care, a point his ministers are understood to have privately stressed to him.
Downing Street said May still had the backing of the Conservative party and was confident that the social care bill would pass before MPs return to parliament in the autumn.
The debate will still be deeply embarrassing for May. Nicky Morgan, the former education secretary who resigned as a minister in protest over the PM’s Brexit negotiations, is also due to deliver a devastating attack on the government on Tuesday as she responds to questions on the Tory manifesto pledge to reinstate free universal childcare.
Senior backbenchers such as Caroline Spelman, the former communities secretary, are refusing to support the social care bill, while Jacob Rees-Mogg has called for a cap to be increased to £250,000. His own amendment to remove the NHS reserve clause from the bill and allow for the creation of a council single-market has also been defeated.