Conservative voters in the north of England view Boris Johnson’s changes to social care funding as toxic and say his broken pledge on not selling homes to pay for care is a betrayal, according to research seen by the Guardian.
The polling and focus group, undertaken for the Labour party, said the changes to social care funding this week found it was “the most powerful broken promise we have tested”, the report found.
Over two-thirds of the public oppose the plans and leave voters (71%) were as likely to oppose them as remain voters (74%), and it was more likely to be unpopular in the north, Midlands and among older voters, the report found.
The document was prepared to inform Labour’s response to changes in social care funding which would penalise poorer voters with lower house prices, meaning means-tested care would not count towards a new £86,000 cap on social care costs.
The change will mean those with £1m homes would be likely to keep more than 90% of their assets, but voters with less valuable homes, many in the north of England, are likely to be forced to sell family homes to pay for care costs once a relative has died.
Labour’s research found the change, which prompted a significant Tory rebellion in the House of Commons, “provokes genuine disgust from voters” though cautioned many did not yet understand the changes.
More worryingly for the Conservatives, it found leave voters in the north and the Midlands were some of the biggest opponents of the plan.
One Tory voter in Redcar, when played Starmer’s line at PMQs that those living in expensive homes would be able to pass them to their children versus those with a less valuable home, said it was “disgusting … they are robbing your kids really”.
Labour will hope to exploit the findings as it found visceral opposition to the plans once publicised – but little widespread understanding of them so far.
“There is real grievance about the importance of ‘people working hard all of their life to have a house to pass on to their children’, and that these plans could make that impossible,” the report says.
It quotes another female Conservative voter saying: “I class myself as working class. We’ve got a lovely four-bedroom house but it’s closer to the £100,000 mark than the £1m, that leaves your children with almost nothing, you’re working all your life to give something to your children and then you need to give it to the government.”
At PMQs on Wednesday, Keir Starmer called the changes a “working-class dementia tax”, accusing the prime minister of breaking the Conservatives’ manifesto promise that no one would have to sell their home to pay care costs.
The line was tested across the groups in the report, with a majority calling it a fair criticism. One male Conservative voter in Redcar said: “Totally agree. People who get put in a home are penalised. It only related to the working class. People who are on handouts, it wouldn’t affect them, the rich, it won’t affect them.”
The report found there was some early evidence of the dementia tax phrase being revived, a critique that proved toxic for Theresa May in 2017, though her plan was based on a significantly different social care model.
Most concerning of all for Johnson is the regional opposition to the plans. More than 80% of voters in the north-east, the region where Johnson won a significant number of Labour heartland seats, said they opposed the plans, as did 74% in the north-west and 79% in Yorkshire and the Humber.
In contrast, those in the south of England where the changes will have a lesser effect were more sanguine, but the change was still opposed by more than half of voters in London and the south-east.
“Most working-class people, the only thing they have worth taxing is their home and if they’re going to sell that for care, they won’t have anything left,” one male Conservative voter told the report.
“I don’t think Boris should have gone back on his pledge. I know we’ve had Covid but this should be a priority. People shouldn’t have to sell their property. They want to leave something to their children,” another female Tory voter said.
Tory MPs have demanded to see an impact assessment for the change which takes in regional disparities. The bill is expected to be amended in the House of Lords, leaving Johnson vulnerable when it returns to the Commons next spring.
More than 60 MPs abstained on the social care change, with several telling the Guardian the prime minister should make changes or risk more voting against it.