Theresa May has said proposed changes to social care funding in England will now include an “absolute limit” on the money people will have to pay.
The prime minister denied claims of a U-turn, saying she was responding to “shameful” claims that people would be forced to sell their family home.
Last week’s Tory manifesto did not mention a cap but the PM said her plans still offered a long-term solution.
But Labour and the Lib Dems said the policy was “in meltdown”.
Plans to make people receiving care at home liable for the full costs if they are worth at least £100,000 have proved controversial since they were announced on Thursday.
Mrs May told activists in Wales that the Conservatives were determined to deal with the strains on social care – which unlike the NHS is not free at the point of use – from an ageing society and without fresh funding, the system was at risk of collapse.
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She insisted that no-one would have to sell their home while they were alive to pay for care and people would still have “something to pass on to” their family after their death.
“We will make sure there’s an absolute limit on what people need to pay. And you will never have to go below £100,000 of your savings.”
The prime minister insisted that “nothing had changed” and “the basic principles” set out in the manifesto remained in place.
Asked what level the cap would be set at, she said that would be a matter for the consultation, if the Tories returned to power. And she hit out at what she said was “fake” portrayals of the policy by Labour and other critics – who have labelled the move a “dementia tax”.
By Health Correspondent Nick Triggle
This represents a complete U-turn on the idea of capping care costs. The cap – a 2015 election promise – was ditched last week with the Tories briefing it would be too expensive because of the ageing population.
Instead they wanted to set a “floor” in England, guaranteeing everyone in England would be able to keep £100,000 but remain liable for unlimited costs until their assets had depleted to that level.
But after a weekend of damaging headlines, there has clearly been a re-think.
Much depends on where they set the cap. If it’s somewhere in the region of the £72,000 proposed last time, it could fundamentally alter the whole policy.
But merging together two policies may prove difficult however. They may not be compatible for one thing.
And where will the money come from? The cost was estimated at £6bn over five years. These, the Tories say, are all questions for another day.
The BBC’s assistant political editor Norman Smith, who was earlier told by Tory sources that there would be no “rowing back”, said the prime minister was now “completely refashioning the policy” and had effectively “ripped” up a four-day-old manifesto commitment.
Chancellor Philip Hammond said the “key tenets” of the policy remained intact but his predecessor George Osborne, who is now editor of the Evening Standard, tweeted that the move was a U-turn, joking that “at least this manifesto wasn’t carved onto a stone”.
Currently anyone with savings and other assets worth more than £23,250 is expected to pay the full cost of their residential care and the value of their home can be taken into account. But this does not apply to those receiving care in their own home.
Under the Conservative plans, this would change and property values could, in future, be factored in. The money would not be taken from an estate until after an individual’s death and £100,000 from that estate would be protected.
Why many will pay more for care
A report by the economist Andrew Dilnot in 2011 recommended a cap on lifetime total care costs of £35,000, after which people would be eligible for state support. The Conservatives went into the 2015 election pledging a £72,000 level although its introduction was subsequently deferred until 2020.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Mrs May’s announcement was a “triumph of spin over reality” and the policy had changed very little.
At a campaign rally in Scarborough, he said a Labour government would immediately spend an additional £2bn on social care so a million “frail and vulnerable” people “in desperate need get the care they deserve”.
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Former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said Theresa May had suffered a “manifesto meltdown” but had still not provided certainty to families about how much they would have to pay for domiciliary care.
UKIP said the Conservatives had let down older people and now needed to be clear they would set a cap at a “modest” level.
The SNP said the situation in Scotland, where personal and nursing care is free for those who are eligible, was “very different” and predicated upon “respecting the dignity of older people who contribute so much throughout their working lives.
Before the rethink was announced, the Conservatives had attempted to fight back online, with a paid-for ad on Google which pop up when users of the search engine type in the words “dementia tax”.
The ad reads “The so-called ‘dementia tax’ – Get the real facts – conservatives.com, together with a link to an explainer about the party’s social care policies on its website.
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