Shadow health minister Stephen O’Brien is eager to play a part in reshaping adult care should the Tories win the next election
The shape of an adult care system under a future Conservative government remains uncertain, particularly on the vexed issue of funding.
Shadow health minister Stephen O’Brien, who has been responsible for the issue for the past four years, should be best placed to know.
However, he says adult social care professionals will need to wait until closer to the election to learn more about the party’s plans,should itwin power in next year’s general election.
Like Labour, the party is signed up to the personalisation agenda, and is committed to going further than the government by introducing integrated health and social care budgets for service users.
It also shares the government’s belief that more people should be cared for at home as opposed to in residential care, and is promising to pilot and then roll out schemes in areas including telecare and support for people discharged from hospital.
In terms of immediate funding pressures flowing from the current recession, O’Brien vows there would be no cuts to frontline care services but more efficiencies would be expected from councils, a view that again echoes the government line.
But on long-term funding reform – the subject of the government’s green paper, published in July – things are less clear.
O’Brien repeats a number of Tory criticisms of the government in this area.
The green paper was “simply another consultation” after “a series of consultations and thwarted initiatives over the past 12 years,” he says.
The government’s decision to delay the release of the financial modelling underpinning the green paper until next year, despite the consultation on the paper ending last week, was “extremely aggravating”.
He says this made it more difficult for interested groups to respond to the consultation “in any authoritative way” and adds that he will continue to press care services minister Phil Hope to justify the decision in the House of Commons.
The Tories have also attacked the government’s decision to consider using the attendance allowance budget to fund state contributions to the personal care costs of all eligible care users – a central proposal in the green paper. The party has pledged to protect the benefit, paid to people aged over 65 who require care because of a disability.
However, this begs the question of how the Tories would source the increase in adult funding that will be required over coming decades to address the ageing population, rising expectations and the perceived unfairness of the current system.
O’Brien says: “We will be saying more about [funding] between now and the general election.”
Home protection scheme
One area where the party’s position is clearer is on its so-called home protection scheme.
It has promised legislation following the election to enable people to make a one-off payment – estimated at £8,000 – on retirement to insure themselves against future care home costs. The scheme is designed to prevent people having to sell their homes to go into residential care, and the Conservatives say it will not require state funding.
O’Brien says the costings have been checked carefully by actuaries. They are based on estimates that one in five people will need residential care at an average cost per person of about £52,000.
In terms of whether people will sign up to the voluntary scheme, he says: “In the past people have thought that maybe long-term care was a one in nine or 10 chance, therefore people were prepared to take their chances, but what’s now increasingly clear is that it’s a real concern for people.”
On his own role under a Tory government, the shadow health minister insists: “If I have the chance to delete the shadow from my job title I would be thrilled. I’ve worked hard over four years and there are issues I want to tackle.”
LAW, BUSINESS, POLITICS: STEPHEN O’BRIEN’S CAREER
● 1983: Qualified as solicitor and practised in City of London until 1988.
●1988-98: Manager and director at building materials producer Redland.
● 1998: Established consultancy specialising in corporate strategy and mergers.
● 1999: Elected to parliament.
● 2001-5: Opposition whip; shadow minister for the Treasury, industry and skills.
● 2005-9: Shadow health minister.
This article is published in the 19 November 2009 edition of Community Care under the headline “O’Brien desperate to step out of care sector’s shadows”