Theresa May has made a dramatic U-turn on her manifesto policy on social care amid signs that controversy over a so-called "dementia tax" was hurting Conservatives in the polls.
Speaking at the launch of the Tories' Welsh manifesto in Wrexham, just four days after the Tory manifesto ditched plans for a cap on care costs, the Prime Minister announced that proposals for a maximum payment would be included in a consultation following the June 8 general election.
The Liberal Democrats accused Mrs May of "panic", while Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said her Government was mired in "chaos and confusion".
Picture by Geoff Abbott / NWN Media
And the PM came under immediate pressure to reveal the proposed level of the cap, with rivals pointing out that it could still result in elderly people being asked to stump up six-figure sums for lengthy and complex care for conditions such as dementia.
Thursday's Tory manifesto set out plans to include the value of elderly people's properties when calculating how much they should pay towards the cost of care at home, as well as residential care. And it guaranteed that no-one would see the value of their estate shrink below £100,000 as a result of care costs.
But Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said at the time that it was "completely explicit" that the idea of a cap had been dropped.
A cap was the central recommendation of the 2011 Dilnot Report into care funding and was due for introduction at a level of £72,000 in 2020, but Mr Hunt said it was not "fair" as it would result in people with multimillion-pound homes being subsidised by taxpayers who were struggling to get by.
Mrs May said: "This manifesto says that we will come forward with a consultation paper, a government green paper.
"And that consultation will include an absolute limit on the amount people have to pay for their care costs."
Appearing visibly angry, she accused Mr Corbyn of resorting to "fake claims, fear and scaremongering" over the impact of her plans and chided reporters who asked about a dementia tax for "using terms that have been used by the Labour Party to try and scare people in this country".
The scale of Conservative concern about the phrase - which featured in the front page headline of the usually Tory-backing Mail on Sunday - was reflected in an advert taken out by the party on Google, which directed users who searched for "dementia tax" to a webpage explaining their policy.
Mrs May denied her announcement amounted to a U-turn, saying: "Nothing has changed, nothing has changed."
She told reporters: "We have not changed the principles of the policies we set out in our manifesto. Those policies remain exactly the same.
"What we have done, which other parties have signally failed to do, is to recognise the challenge that we face, to respect the needs and concerns of the British people and to provide a long-term plan for sustainable social care which means that elderly people in this country won't have to worry about how their social care will be paid for in the future."
But Mr Corbyn turned her oft-repeated catchphrase against her as he said: "This isn't strong and stable, this is chaos."
Speaking during a campaign visit to Hull, the Labour leader said: "I'm not playing on anybody's fears, I'm expressing the fears that a lot of people have and I suggest the Prime Minister, instead of blaming me, should look to herself and look to her team and look to the policy, or lack of policy, that's she's put forward."
Mrs May's climbdown came after a clutch of opinion polls showed Labour eating into her party's lead.
The latest, by Survation for ITV's Good Morning Britain, showed Conservatives on 43%, down five points on the previous week, while Labour were up five on 34%.
Tim Farron branded the U-turn "May's manifesto meltdown", but said it changed nothing for families concerned about the bill for care for elderly relatives.
"As Theresa May has made clear herself, nothing has changed and her heartless dementia tax remains in place," said the Liberal Democrat leader.
"This is a cold and calculated attempt to pull the wool over people's eyes. Theresa May still wants to take older people's homes to fund social care."
Mrs May was scooped on her own announcement by by former cabinet colleague George Osborne - now editor of the Evening Standard - who tweeted half an hour before she spoke: "U-turn coming on social care. There will be a cap."
In an apparent sign of Osborne twisting the knife on the woman who sacked him from Government, a Standard editorial described her announcement as "an astonishing U-turn" after a "weekend of wobbles".
Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: "PM not so strong and stable after all ... and can't be trusted to protect pensioners."
And Ukip economic spokesman Patrick O'Flynn said the new policy was "wholly inadequate" and Tories were in "full meltdown" on the issue.
Sir Andrew Dilnot, author of the 2001 review which suggested a cap, told BBC Radio 4's World At One: "Only a few days ago the Government was saying a cap was not a good idea.
"I think they've now recognised it is a good idea and I think those who want to see a sensible system put in place simply need to keep the pressure up over the next few months so we do end up with a system that can work."
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