Sir Keir Starmer questioned whether Boris Johnson was “okay” as he accused him of introducing a “working-class dementia tax” through this week’s reform to social care funding.
The Labour leader said the prime minister was fronting a “Covent Garden pickpocketing operation” over the reform that means only what individuals personally pay for their social care will contribute to the lifetime £86,000 cap.
It was pushed through the Commons by a small majority after a Tory rebellion but experts have said it will mean poorer people will take longer to reach the cap than wealthy individuals so would see more of their assets eaten up by care costs.
Raising the issue at Prime Minister’s Questions, Sir Keir said: “The only thing he is delivering is high taxes, high prices and low growth. I’m not sure the prime minister should be shouting about that.
“And it isn’t just broken promises, it’s also about fairness. Everyone needs protecting against massive health and care costs.
“But under his plan, someone with assets worth about £100,000 will lose almost everything yet somebody with assets of about £1 million will keep almost everything.”
After quizzing the prime minister a number of times on the issue, Sir Keir added: “It’s a classic con game. A Covent Garden pickpocketing operation. The prime minister is the frontman, distracting people with wild promises and panto speeches whilst his chancellor dips his hand in their pocket.”
And he asked: “How could he possibly have managed to devise a working-class dementia tax?”
The PM retorted that the social care plan “does more for working people up and down the country than Labour ever did”.
A fairly loud PMQs, but did we really learn much? | Analysis by Kate McCann, political correspondent
Sir Keir Starmer had a lot of pressure on his shoulders to perform this week, with a wealth of material to choose from.
He avoided a Peppa Pig joke (perhaps it’s getting a little old now…), but had a few digs at Boris Johnson over his party’s loyalties, whether he would be the leader at the next election, and whether he’s coming off the rails when it comes to decision-making.
He landed a few blows, but in choosing to use all his questions on social care – a subject the PM is now used to combatting difficult questions on – he didn’t get very far in policy terms.
Perhaps that didn’t matter, though, Sir Keir used his new phrase, calling the social care changes a “working-class dementia tax” – a line Labour hopes will stick.
Whether it’s accurate, whether everyone who would be affected by the policy would consider themselves to be working class, is another matter.
In terms of Boris Johnson, he just about made it through. His party had largely filled the green benches, the few gaps could be explained away, and there was enough noise to convince those watching that no leadership challenge will be forthcoming in the weeks ahead.
But the PM didn’t have much new to say, and questions on social care and rail only serve to remind those Conservatives worried about broken promises that these issues won’t go away.
Mr Johnson earlier this week gave a speech to business leaders in which he imitated a car engine, lost his place and effusively praised Peppa Pig World, prompting exasperation from some senior Tories.
And on top of the Tory rebellion over social care, he has been plagued by criticism over standards after a U-turn the government performed after initially whipping Conservative MPs to reject suspending now ex-Tory MP Owen Paterson for breaching lobbying rules.
Sir Keir used PMQs to echo a reporter’s question after the Peppa Pig speech, as he asked: “Is everything OK, prime minister?”
The PM replied: “I’ll tell you what’s not working – it’s that line of attack.”
Mr Johnson used Sir Keir’s attack on him for downgrading rail plans for the Midlands and the North by saying there has been “nothing like it for a century”, as he referenced a promised £96 billion investment and three new high-speed lines.
He added: “It turns out that (he) actually campaigned against HS2, said it would be devastating and said it should be cancelled.”
Mr Johnson said: “I took a decision that it was the right thing to do for the long-term interests of the whole country, how can they possibly trust that man?”