Mr. Johnson is eager to address the social care system — which is primarily for the old, disabled and others unable to care for themselves — and cement it as part of his legacy. But his move to get a grip on the funding, at this moment in British politics, is a gamble.
With a big majority in Parliament, the country out of lockdown and a respectable lead in the midterm opinion polls, Mr. Johnson might have opted for a period of political consolidation after another traumatic year. Instead he is tackling a notoriously treacherous problem that guarantees a battle in Parliament.
His proposals are likely to cap the amount any British citizen pays for social care over their lifetime. That would prevent many from having to sell their homes to pay for care, but would also mean investing more public money, mainly through raising taxes.
In 2017, Mr. Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, lost her majority in Parliament after a disastrous election campaign in which the opposition Labour Party highlighted her pledge to reform social care, describing her plan as a “dementia tax.”
That phrase was used by Labour to suggest that someone needing care because they suffered from Alzheimer’s would be less able to pass on their home to their children than someone with a condition such as cancer. In Britain a cancer sufferer would receive free medical care under the National Health Service.
For Mr. Johnson, whose government was on the defensive over the chaotic British military departure from Afghanistan, the focus on the domestic agenda is a chance to show voters who supported the Conservatives for the first time in 2019 that he is addressing the issues that concern them. Health care proved a crucial issue in the 2016 Brexit referendum when pro-Brexit campaigners, including Mr. Johnson, suggested that quitting the European Union would allow £350 million, or $484 million, a week to go to the health service, a claim described as misleading by the head of the national statistics authority.