U.K. Labour Pledges to Fund Elderly Care as Brexit Splits Harden

Jessica Shankleman

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Labour treasury spokesman John McDonnell will seek to reunite the U.K.’s main opposition party behind a pledge to guarantee free adult social care after a weekend of splits over Brexit.

Labour’s National Care Service will provide older people with free help for daily tasks, including getting out of bed, bathing and preparing meals, McDonnell will say in a speech on Monday to the party’s annual conference.

The announcement, with echoes of the party’s role in the foundation of the U.K.’s National Health Service, is expected to cost 6 billion pounds ($7.5 billion) in 2020/21, rising to 8 billion pounds in 2030/31, the party said in a statement.

After a weekend of disputes over Brexit and internal democracy, the party leadership is seeking to unite activists behind policies focused on redistribution and social justice so they can mount an effective challenge to Prime Minister Boris Johnson in an election expected this fall.

“We know whose side we’re on. We’re on the side of the people against the super-rich establishment that Johnson represents,” Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said in a speech on the fringes of the conference on Sunday evening. “We stand for the many, the overwhelming majority who do the work and pay their taxes, not the few at the top who hoard the wealth and dodge their taxes.”

An aging population is one of Britain’s biggest economic challenges and political parties have struggled to tackle the issue. During the 2017 election campaign, then Prime Minister Theresa May was forced to back down after her plan to make elderly people pay for the costs of their own care was dubbed a “dementia tax.” It was widely blamed for costing her Conservative Party its majority.

Corbyn is again planning to focus on social and economic policies in the next general election and wants to use Labour’s annual conference to build a radical agenda for government. On Sunday, Rebecca Long-Bailey, the party’s business spokeswoman, said Labour has already drafted laws to deliver its pledge to nationalize water and energy utilities.

McDonnell said in a speech Saturday that he and Corbyn want to deliver their ambition for an “irreversible shift in wealth and power to working people.”

But the party’s ability to deliver that goal is being undermined by deep splits over Brexit.

On Monday, party members are due to vote on Labour’s Brexit policy. Corbyn is trying to strike a balance, proposing to renegotiate a deal with the EU and then pitching it against remaining in the bloc in a second referendum. Labour would decide which side to take only once the terms of the deal are known.

That stance has angered prominent Labour politicians, including Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer, foreign affairs spokeswoman Emily Thornberry and deputy leader Tom Watson, who are pushing for unambiguous support for staying in the bloc.

Watson, who survived an attempt to oust him on Saturday, said backing ‘Remain’ offers the party a clearer route to power.

There’s little sign of a truce emerging. Len McCluskey, general secretary of the Unite labor union, Labour’s biggest financial backer, said members of the shadow cabinet who disagree with Corbyn should step aside.

“We should be singing from the same hymn sheet,” he told Sky News.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jessica Shankleman in London at jshankleman@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tim Ross at tross54@bloomberg.net, Stuart Biggs, Thomas Penny

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