Theresa May’s manifesto showed the Tories had returned to being the “nasty party”, Labour said as it warned 10 million pensioners would lose their winter fuel payments under her plans.
The Prime Minister’s policy platform, which saw her vow to govern for “mainstream Britain” and deliver a strong economy after Brexit, included a radical shake-up of pensioner benefits and the system for funding social care.
Labour went on the attack over the plans to end the pensions triple lock, which guarantees annual rises of at least 2.5%, in an effort to attract the so-called “grey vote”.
Older people are more likely to cast their votes and May knows that removing universal benefits such as the winter fuel payment risks a backlash, but she is confident that her plans to tackle the “giant” challenges facing the country – such as its ageing population – will attract support.
The fallout from the manifesto launch came as five other leaders – without May and Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn – locked horns in a televised debate which saw the Prime Minister criticised for her failure to attend.
Instead of taking part, Corbyn led Labour’s fight back following the launch of the Tory manifesto, saying: “Theresa May’s nasty party has launched a shameful attack on older people – introducing a compassion tax to force those in need of social care to pay for it with their family home.
“Labour is standing up for pensioners and guaranteeing the triple lock on state pensions, as well as giving social care the funding it needs.
“It is clear the Conservatives are offering more of the same, tax giveaways for their billionaire friends and nothing for ordinary people. Labour is standing up for the many, not the few.”
The decision to scrap a planned £72,000 cap on social care bills was denounced by the author of a seminal report on the issue, Sir Andrew Dilnot, who said pensioners would be left “helpless” to control costs.
Instead, May offered a guarantee that no-one will be forced out of their home or left with assets of less than £100,000 as a result of care costs. Increased spending will be funded by withdrawing the £300 winter fuel payment from wealthier pensioners.
Labour highlighted analysis by living standards think tank the Resolution Foundation which suggested that the winter fuel payment plans look set to restrict the benefit to the very poorest two million pensioners, taking it away from 10 million others and saving £1.7 billion.
Both the Prime Minister and Corbyn turned down the invitation to take part in the ITV Leaders’ Debate in Salford.
Scottish First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, Liberal Democrat chief Tim Farron, Ukip’s Paul Nuttall, Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood and Green co-leader Caroline Lucas showed up for the prime time debate.
Farron told viewers: ” The fact that Theresa May isn’t here tonight tells you she is taking you for granted.
“She thinks she owns this election, owns our future and owns our children’s future.”
Sturgeon said the Tories were “in hock” to Ukip and Labour “simply isn’t strong enough to hold the Tories to account”.
Wood – who was bizarrely twice called Natalie by Nuttall – challenged May over her decision to miss the debate.
She said: “You may be too scared to come here tonight, for your U-turns to be highlighted, for your cruel policies to be exposed. You want this election to only be about Brexit because that means you avoid talking about the real issues like the NHS, the economy and the cuts you have made to our public services.
“That’s weak leadership – weak and unstable.”
Ukip leader Nuttall said only his party is “truly committed to the Brexit that people voted for” in last year’s referendum.
May will be back on the campaign trail on Friday as the Scottish Tories launch their General Election manifesto.
Corbyn will be on the road in Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire, while his shadow chancellor John McDonnell will maintain the attack on the Tory manifesto plans.
Lib Dem leader Farron will follow his TV debate appearance with a campaign event in the North West while Nuttall will be in Ukip’s Essex heartlands. (PA)