Speaking at the annual Ageing Population conference in London last week, O’Brien said the social care system is already creaking under the pressure of the older generation, and it will worsen as 1.7 million more adults will need care and support by 2026.
He said: “The system is crying out for reform. It should work seamlessly with our NHS but instead too often people do not get the care they need to keep them out of hospital.
“People who have been able to accrue assets should not have to see all that eaten up in care costs yet last year 50,000 people had to sell their homes to pay for the long term care.
“An incoming government will not just have to take forward the debate on reform, but the reform itself. And there are no easy solutions.”
O’Brien suggests first that an informed debate about the costs for care is needed closely followed by detailed debate over the method for meeting those costs. He said that could include general taxation, levies on the state or optional or compulsory insurance schemes.
He added: “Finally we must debate the method of dispersing funds. Do we give each individual a cash entitlement, do we have vouchers, do we have state commissioned provision, do we give people a single entitlement or a needs based entitlement.”
O’Brien said the funding of social care should be on a partnership basis, combining universal non-means-tested cash benefits, personal budgets though local authorities, means-tested personal contributions and free-of-charge NHS and preventative public health services.
The Tories Home Protection Scheme is an example of how people can ensure their assets against the risk of fees for permanent residential care, says O’Brien.
He adds: “Conservatives believe that because the cost of care can be so high and the need for care so arbitrary it is right to put structures in place to share those costs. If the state is to do anything it is to coordinate a sharing of the risk of needing care at a potentially catastrophic cost level.”
Referring to Labour’s Care At Home Bill, he said the funding has not been “adequately identified”.
O’Brien also questioned the role of the newly-created Care Quality Commission.
He said: “My current concern is that the Care Quality Commission is neither concentrating on the quality of care nor putting information across the consumers in a way that enables them to make informed choices and this must be looked at.”
But going forward, he said: “Demography and the social care challenge it brings is a challenge of our generation. Conservatives are ready to meet that challenge as a priority in the next parliament.”