Damian Green has said the Conservatives will not “look again” at plans to fund social care in England, despite fears they will be unpopular with voters.
The Tory manifesto says elderly people needing care at home would have to meet the costs but could keep £100,000 after the bill is deducted from their estate.
The work and pensions secretary told the BBC it would still be “a reasonable inheritance” to pass on to dependants.
Labour said the plan would leave people “on their own” and should be pulled.
The policy scraps a planned £72,000 cap on care costs paid by the individual. The Tories argue that allowing people to keep a “floor” of £100,000 of assets which cannot be touched is fairer.
Conservative ministers have been defending the policy, arguing PM Theresa May is showing “bravery” by tackling the issue, and that a balance has to be struck between costs funded by the individual and those funded by the taxpayer.
But Conservative think tank the Bow Group has warned it could be the “biggest stealth tax in history”, and four opinion polls for Sunday newspapers suggest that, while the Conservatives retain a big lead, support for Labour has increased.
Labour has accused the Tories of “attacks on older people”, citing the social care plan as well as curbs on winter fuel payments and the downgrading of the “triple lock” on the state pension.
‘Fair to everyone’
On plans to means-test the winter fuel allowance – a one-off payment of between £100 and £300 – in England and Wales, Mr Green told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show those “in genuine need” would continue to get it and the money saved would go into social care.
The exact threshold for cut-off would be subject to consultation, he added.
Mr Green said the social care cap system that had been due to come in in 2020 would have unfairly benefited those with the most expensive estates to pass on.
“It’s got to work for everyone, not just in Ashford and Twickenham, but also in Hartlepool and in north Wales and in Scotland and so on. Allowing everyone to know that there is this flat figure of £100,000 is fair to everyone.”
He stressed a £100,000 inheritance was still “four times as good” as being left with £23,250 – the current threshold over which residential care costs must be funded.
“Everyone knows there will be a decent inheritance for them, nobody will have to lose their home during their lifetime or the lifetime of their surviving spouse.”
Asked if the Tories might reconsider the plans given the criticism, Mr Green said: “No… we have set out this policy, which we’re not going to look at again.”
He said there would be a green paper covering both social care and health “coming out in the summer”.
How would the Tory social care plans work?
Under the Conservative plans nobody with assets of less than £100,000 would have to pay for care, including everything from help washing and dressing, through to round-the-clock support.
Currently anyone with assets of over £23,250 is expected to pay the full cost of their residential care and the value of your house can be taken into account.
But that is not the case if you receive care in your own home. Under the Tory plans the value of your home may in future be factored in, although the money will not be taken from your estate until after death.
This means some people fear they will not be able to pass their homes down to their children.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said a cap on privately funded costs – rather than a “floor” – was a better system.
“What we want to make sure, just like the NHS, is there is pooled risk so everybody is certain.
“That’s why we supported Dilnot but we also supported a cross-party approach because we have got to have something that is sustainable over generations.”
‘Bravery and candour’
The policy was defended by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on ITV’s Peston’s Politics as a “sensible, grown-up Conservative approach” to dealing with the “massive problem” of the long-term cost of social care.
But asked about the disparity between costs faced by someone with dementia, as compared with a someone who had suffered a stroke, for example, he said: “I do understand people’s reservations and the questions that people are asking about some of the detail of this.
“But the broad thrust is right, as the prime minister as said, there will be a consultation on getting it right.”
“I think it is a mark of people’s bravery and candour with the electorate that she is doing this.”
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron told Sky’s Sophie Ridge on Sunday: “What we are seeing this weekend is the Conservatives under growing pressure because they have chosen a dementia tax.”
“If you or your loved one has or will get dementia, they are coming for you”.