British PM May's election lead halves after 'dementia tax': surveys

Reuters News
Posted: May 22, 2017 7:06 AM

By William James and Kylie MacLellan

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Theresa May is facing a much closer election after the lead held by her governing Conservative Party halved since she set out proposals to reduce financial support for some elderly voters, opinion polls showed.

When May called the snap election for June 8, surveys indicated she would win a landslide comparable with Margaret Thatcher's 1983 majority of 144 seats in the 650-seat parliament.

That picture has changed following a week in which both the Conservatives and the main opposition Labour Party set out their election pitches to voters.

May sought to poach traditional Labour supporters with a mix of pledges more radical than those of her predecessor, David Cameron.

One was a proposal to transfer a greater share of the cost of caring for elderly people from taxpayers to those recipients who can afford to pay for their own care. [nL8N1IK4F4]

That raised concerns some might see their houses sold off after their deaths to pay for the care they received rather than passed on to their descendants. May's opponents have dubbed it a "dementia tax", saying it will particularly hit those who need long-term care at home.

May said in a speech on Monday that no one would be forced to sell their home to pay for social care, and she would cap the amount the elderly would have to pay.

A Survation poll published on Monday before her speech showed May's lead over Labour had halved to 9 percent, adding to a string of polls suggesting the gap was narrowing. [nL8N1IN0KW]

A YouGov poll on Saturday also showed at 9 points, and found 40 percent of the public were opposed to the change to elderly care provision while 35 percent were supportive.

The YouGov poll also found 49 percent opposed May's plan to tighten the criteria for raising the state pension each year, compared to 30 percent who supported it.


May called the snap election to strengthen her hand in negotiations on Britain's departure from the European Union and win more time to deal with the impact of the divorce. But if she gains less than an impressive majority, her electoral gamble will have failed.

With polls showing the Conservatives' lead over Labour down from 20 points or more earlier in the campaign, May is projected to win a smaller majority of around 40 seats.

But many are skeptical of the headline poll numbers after surveys failed to correctly Britain's last national election in 2015, as well as the 2016 EU referendum and Donald Trump's U.S. election victory.

Pollsters have said their 2015 polls significantly overestimated support for Labour. While they have since adjusted their methodology to seek to address this, it will not be known until June 9 whether they have now gone too far the other way.

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Survation said in a blog alongside its data that respondents "were more likely to say that Labour, rather than the Conservatives, had the best policies for young people, families with young children, managing the National Health Service, improving the education system and older people and pensioners."

On Monday, May will seek to turn the focus back to one of her strongest cards in the election, urging voters to back her to deliver Brexit and saying Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is not committed to or capable of securing a successful deal.

Polls show May is more trusted to secure a good deal in talks with Brussels and that some voters are confused about Labour's position on the issue.

"There will be no time to waste and no time for a new government to find its way," May will say, according to extracts of a speech that will highlight that divorce talks with the EU could begin 11 days after the election. [nL8N1IL3RH]

Britain's pound fell back below $1.30 on Monday after the polls showed May's lead had fallen.

(Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and John Stonestreet)