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Written Statement - Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Bill – Statutory Framework for Advocacy

Gwenda Thomas, Deputy Minister for Social Services

Securing rights and entitlements to ensure people have a strong voice and real control over their care and support, to enable them to maximise their well-being, is the nucleus of our vision for Sustainable Social Services for Wales.

There are many people who advocate for individuals to ensure they have their voice heard for example; teachers, social workers, community nurses, carers, colleagues, family and friends.

However there are times when because of a person’s capacity, the environment or circumstances they find themselves in, the individual does not feel empowered to use their voice to ensure that they are safe, or that they have a voice in what matters to them about their daily life or where they can get care or support. When this happens having access to an independent advocate who can represent them and be their voice to communicate their views and wishes freely and directly is critical.

The Welsh Government is unique in our approach and our pledge to people in Wales is that we embrace the value of individuals’ rights: 

  • to be listened to;
  • to be respected; 
  • to be taken seriously; and
  • to be in control.

These key principles and ethos are at the core of all of our policies and programmes.

Through the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Bill we have taken this further, by placing securing rights and entitlements as one of the main requirements that underpins a person’s well-being.

We have recognised the important role that an advocate has in supporting and helping people at particularly difficult or vulnerable times and there is legislation in place to ensure these individuals have an enforceable right to representation. This helps ensure that:

  • the views of children who are looked after and other children and young people who have care and support needs are assisted when making a representation or complaint about key issues that are affecting their lives;
  • children and younger adults are represented in tribunals and appeals about their statement for Special Educations Needs;
  • people who lack capacity are supported in making informed decisions in hospital and the community about their care and treatment for mental health.

The Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Bill builds on these existing entitlements through the establishment of a new framework that:

  • preserves rights for children and young people currently provided for under the Children Act 1989 to an advocate when making a representation or a complaint and extends the new framework to provide assistance to adults when making a complaint about a function of social services; and
  • ensures that people can access information, advice and assistance (IAA) about their care and support to make informed decisions. This service must be accessible to all and provided in a manner to meet the individual circumstance. It must include; how to access it, what services are available, financial advice (including what financial support they can receive towards their care), how to raise concern about their or someone else’s safety and well-being.

Additionally, the new duties will;

  • require local authorities to provide assistance. For some people – who have communication or other difficulties for example – this will be a face to face discussion to provide advice and support in accessing local services. It could also be a referral for a comprehensive assessment by a social worker when more intense intervention is necessary.

The “assistance” aspect of the new statutory Information, Advice and Assistance duties in the Bill will allow for an advocate on behalf of those individuals who need such support. Our expectation of the service, including the role of assisting people in accessing care and support, will be clearly articulated in the supporting Code of Practice.

As a listening Government, we have heard the representations and considered the evidence submitted by many about the important role of advocacy and the need for it to be available in wider circumstances than is currently the case. The reports by the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales; Age Cymru - Advocacy Counts; the Children’s Commissioner for Wales - Missing Voices and the Health and Social Care Committee report on Residential Care for Older people in Wales as well as the comprehensive scrutiny of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Bill by key stakeholders set out a compelling argument that there are circumstances where an independent advocate would make a significant contribution to assist an individual in making decisions about their care. This enables individuals to exercise voice and control to maximise their well-being.

I have carefully considered the evidence and I am persuaded by these representations and am pleased to announce today my intention to bring forward government amendments to the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Bill to further extend provision for statutory advocacy. In particular, I intend to include provisions;

  • for regulations to place duties on local authorities to make advocacy available in prescribed circumstances for example,  people with complex needs who may not have the capability or wider family or community networks to advocate on their behalf in decisions about their care;
  • for regulations to require that independent advocacy is provided to people when the local authority is investigating a concern of risk or abuse;
  • requiring local authorities to promote and inform people of their right to advocacy, including self- funders; and
  • requiring registered care home providers to inform people in their care about the availably of advocacy services by the local authority.

These further changes that I am considering reinforce the importance that the Welsh Government places on ensuring that those who are in most need and who experience difficult times are supported in making decisions about their care. A power to make regulations provides a statutory framework to enable us to future proof our responses over time to differing circumstances and thereby ensure that people have a strong voice and real control.

As set out in Sustainable Social Services: A Framework for Action and to ensure there is momentum in progressing our commitment to the development of a detailed business case to provide us with options for a future incremental and affordable expansion of advocacy, the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales has set up and agreed to chair a task group on Advocacy. I am grateful to the Commissioner for her leadership on this and the work that her office will undertake in this area. I have also asked the Task Group to work closely with the Expert Advisory Group on Advocacy that has been jointly established between myself and the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty. The Expert Group has been asked to consider some of the issues around advocacy provision for children and young people, and their important work and that of the Task Group will need to be considered carefully together. The Minister and I will make further statements about the work of the Expert Group in due course. Therefore the Task Group and Expert Group will both have a role in shaping the policy for future regulations to be made under the Advocacy Framework and I will keep Assembly Members informed of progress.  

I know Assembly Members and others will warmly welcome this statement, but also share my view that legislation alone will not realise our vision for an inclusive Wales that empowers all people to have voice and control of their care. Professionals and others across all sectors of care (not advocates alone) have a fundamental role in promoting and better responding to ensure the views and wishes of people are heard within day to day practice. In short, advocating for people who need care and support is a responsibility that falls to each of us in the different guises and roles we take in life with family, friends, community and in our professional lives.