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Western Mail Article by Gwenda Thomas, Deputy Minister for Children and Social Services

I believe how we care for the vulnerable in our society defines us as a civilisation. This is why the Welsh Government’s Social Service Bill is so vitally important in protecting people from birth to the end of life.
Monday 06 February 2012
Western Mail
We recognise that without a programme of transformation, social services will not meet the needs of the people of Wales - they are simply not sustainable.

The Social Services Bill I outlined at the end of last month will be central to that transformation by specifying the core legal framework for social services and social care.

Sustainability depends on people having a stronger voice and real control. The starting point is enabling individuals to fully understand how care and support may help them.  We want to make access to assessments a right, and for those assessments to focus on the outcomes that people themselves are seeking. They must be involved. Assessments must be about needs, not about services.

I am clear that we must draw on the strengths of people being members of their families, networks and communities. I am also clear that people are precisely that - individuals with their own particular needs. We want this legislation to underpin a common way of thinking, one that reinforces rights and diversity of need.

We want a legal framework that supports the delivery of services in a much more integrated way. This means that social services must work closely with other public services and the third and independent sectors, and that care is not the responsibility of social services alone.

Social services cannot be sustainable without delivering more early intervention. We are not prepared to sit by as fewer and fewer people receive the support they need. We will need local government to understand the dimensions and shape of the population in need and to have powers to make arrangements to provide a range of services to meet those needs.

Of course some people will require an intensive and comprehensive range of services. We will make it clear that local authorities have a duty to provide, or make arrangements to provide, social care services, and will bring forward a definition of these services.

The Bill will give people the right to access information, advice, and assistance in finding out about services. We need a more coherent framework for efficient, safe services and better information sharing, so we will improve consistency of access through the creation of a portable assessment of need and give Ministers the powers to establish a national eligibility framework.

The Bill will extend the range of services for which people have the right to a direct payment where that is their wish, and extend the rights of carers to an assessment, by introducing a single duty which will allow us to extend the right for a carer’s assessment more widely, when circumstances permit.
We will also strengthen the complaints procedure and extend the Public Services Ombudsman’s powers to consider complaints.

Sustainable Social Services and Together for Health make it clear that a step change in integrating services, particularly for frail older people, is an urgent necessity. This Bill will therefore extend the duty on social services and the NHS to collaborate in the delivery of integrated services, including the expectation of the use of pooled budgets and other flexibilities.

The Welsh Government has made it clear that social services need stronger national direction. The Bill will set out powers to establish a national outcomes framework and set standards for social services.

I also want to be clear about local accountability. The Bill will therefore establish a duty requiring local authorities to appoint a competent Director of Social Services to lead and manage family focussed social services. This will include powers to share Directors of Social Services.

There will be strategic changes to the regulatory system for social care, including clarifying the responsibilities of employers, and the regulators role in checking financial viability of providers. The Welsh Government needs to strengthen and build the confidence of our key professionals by regulating their training and conduct.

The Bill will also simplify arrangements in relation to adoption by placing a duty on the 22 local authorities to require them to come together to establish a single adoption agency.

The foundation for these changes has been made through the protection of Social Services budgets. The Bill makes it clear that the changes proposed require working in new ways. The approach will reduce bureaucracy so that organisations can focus on delivery and re-prioritise to deliver efficiency as well as service change.

There will be an opportunity to see and debate the details of the Bill when we launch a full public consultation in March, with a view to introducing it into the National Assembly in October 2012.

This is, however, only the first stage of our journey. Regulations and a Code of Practice for Social Services will be developed once the Bill has received Royal Assent.

This Bill provides us with the legislative basis that meets the changing needs of the people of Wales.


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Gwenda Thomas AM

Deputy Minister for Social Services



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