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Written Statement - Social Services and Well-Being (Wales) Bill

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Gwenda Thomas, Deputy Minister for Children and  Social Services

The Social Service and Well-being (Wales) Bill has been laid today, 28 January 2013.

The Bill gives effect to the policy stated in the White Paper Sustainable Social Services for Wales: A Framework for Action, which set out the Welsh Government’s response to the significant challenges that face social services as a result of increased and changing societal expectations, demographic change and a difficult resource environment. It has at its heart, two key policy objectives: Firstly, to improve the well-being outcomes for people who need care and support, and carers who need support; and secondly, to reform social services law.

The Bill provides for a single Act for Wales that brings together local authorities’ duties and functions in relation to improving the well-being of people who need care and support and carers who need support. It provides the statutory framework to deliver the Welsh Government’s commitment to integrate social services to support people of all ages, and support people as part of families and communities.

It will transform the way social services are delivered, primarily through promoting people’s independence to give them stronger voice and control. Integration and simplification of the law for people will also provide greater consistency and clarity to people who use social services, their carers, local authority staff and their partner organisations, the courts and the judiciary. The Bill will promote equality, improve the quality of services and the provision of information people receive, as well as ensuring the right incentives for local government and their partners to achieve a shared focus on prevention and early intervention.

In seeking to bring about this transformation the Bill makes provisions in the following areas:

Through its general functions (part 2) the Bill provides for:

  • Overarching well-being duties to be placed on persons exercising functions under the Bill in order to seek to promote the well-being of people who need care and support, and carers who need support.
  • New duties on local authorities to promote the development of new models of delivery in local authority areas through social enterprises, co-operatives, user-led and third sector services.
  • Duties on local authorities, facilitated by LHBs, to provide information, advice and assistance to help people understand how the care and support system works, what services are available locally, and how to access the services they need now and in the future.

In assessing the needs of individuals (Part 3) the Bill provides for:

  • A single right to assessment for adults and children (and their families) along with a single duty for local authorities to undertake a ‘carer’s assessment’.
  • The combining of different assessments and the creation of regulation-making powers for Welsh Ministers to provide greater detail in relation to assessments.

In meeting needs (Part 4) the Bill provides for:

  • A duty on local authorities to conduct an eligibility assessment to determine ‘eligible need’.
  • The development of a national eligibility framework to provide clarity through Regulations on what constitutes an ‘eligible need’.  
  • A single duty to meet the “eligible needs”, of adults and similar obligation on local authorities to meet the eligible needs of children.  
  • Carers to be treated in the same way as persons in need of care and support.
  • A framework within which local authorities may be allowed or required to make direct payments to a person (including carers) towards the cost of meeting needs for care and support (or support in the case of carers).
  • A duty for local authorities to provide and to keep under review care and support plans for people (children and adults) who have ‘eligible needs’ and for carers whose needs are ‘eligible’.
  • Care and support plans for people (but not carers) to be portable across Welsh local authority boundaries.

With regards to charging and financial assessment (Part 5) the Bill provides for:

  • Provision is made to allow local authorities to impose charges for providing or arranging a service where appropriate.
  • A duty on local authorities to undertake financial assessments in certain circumstances (the detailed arrangements for which are intended to be prescribed through regulation).

In respect of Looked after and accommodated children (Part 6) the Bill provides for:

  • The provisions under Part 3 of the Children Act 1989 to be consolidated and where possible clarified (but without detracting from the obligations and duties towards these groups of children and young people).
  • A duty on local authorities to meet the care and support needs of “looked after” children and care leavers.
  • The re-enactment of the duties owed to these children in relation to local authorities’ duties and functions for their placement; accommodation (including ensuring that there is sufficient accommodation in their area); education; health; contact with family; independent visits; maintenance and regulations about the approval of foster carers etc.

In strengthening ‘Safeguarding’ (Part 7) the Bill provides for:

  • A new statutory framework to protect adults at risk. Including for authorised officers of a local authority to apply to the court for an “adult protection and support order”.  Such an order will confer a power of entry to facilitate practitioners in speaking to an adult suspected of being at risk.
  • Duties on relevant partners to report to the local authority when it suspects that a person may be an adult at risk.
  • The establishing of a new National Independent Safeguarding Board to provide national leadership to the safeguarding agenda and to advise Ministers on the adequacy and effectiveness of safeguarding arrangements.
  • The creation of new Safeguarding Children Boards and new Safeguarding Adults Boards. Board areas and lead partners of the Boards are to be prescribed through regulations.  

With regards to broader Social services functions (Part 8) the Bill provides for:

  • Implementation of the Law Commission’s recommendation that the Government should issue a code(s) of practice to provide guidance for social services authorities on the exercise of their social services functions.  
  • Welsh Ministers to intervene in the exercise of social services functions by a local authority on certain grounds specified in the Bill; and where appropriate to issue directions.

Under Well-being outcomes, co-operation and partnership (Part 9) the Bill provides for:

  • A duty on Welsh Ministers to publish a statement of the outcomes to be achieved in terms of the well-being of people who need care and support and carers who need support.  
  • Welsh Ministers to have powers to issue a Code to help achieve the outcomes.  The code may impose requirements on local authorities and give guidance both to local authorities and to other providers of care and support.
  • A duty on local authorities to make arrangements to promote co-operation with partner bodies to improve the well-being of adults with needs for care and support and carers with needs for support.
  • Requirements on local authorities to promote the integration of care and support with health and health-related provision, with a view to improving well-being, prevention and raising quality.
  • Partnership arrangements to be prescribed through regulations both between local authorities and between local authorities and local health boards.
  • Powers for Welsh Ministers to direct local authorities to enter into joint arrangements in relation to their functions for the maintenance and operation of adoption services, thereby enabling Welsh Ministers to deliver their policy ambitions in relation to a National Adoption Service.  

Finally, in respect of Complaints and representations (Part 10) the Bill provides for:

  • A new framework for local authority duties in respect of their consideration of representation and complaints from people about social services functions.
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The draft proposals for this Bill were informed by discussions with key stakeholders, as well as debates in the Assembly and elsewhere, following the publication of Sustainable Social Services for Wales. The evidence of the Independent Commission on Social Services in Wales; the Law Commission’s review of adult social care legislation, and our own Review of Safeguarding also provided further evidence to draw upon in the development of those proposals. 

A 12 week public consultation on the Bill ran from 12 March to 1 June 2012. This consultation set out the key principles of areas for change and sought to gain views of the proposed content of the Bill. 275 written responses were received during this 12 week period and a range of events held which were attended by over 500 people. 

A copy of the consultation document and a Summary of Responses, which I issued via a Written Ministerial Statement on 17 October 2012, are available from the Welsh Government website. Individual responses will also be published shortly.

A Legislative Statement will be made in Plenary tomorrow to introduce the Bill and I look forward to the Assembly’s consideration of the Bill over the coming months.