Julie Morgan AM, Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services
It is paramount that people’s ability to live independently is not compromised by changes to the way care and support is arranged for people previously in receipt of the Welsh Independent Living Grant.
The Independent Living Fund (ILF) was established in 1988 by the UK Government to make payments to disabled people throughout the UK to help with the additional cost of living independently at home. The UK Government subsequently closed the ILF to new applicants in 2010 before ending the fund entirely in 2015. The UK Government transferred to the Welsh Government in 2015 responsibility for providing support to those people affected in Wales. This was accompanied by flat-rate recurrent funding of £27 million p.a.
To ensure the immediate continuity of support we worked with local authorities to establish the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG). At the time of transfer from the UK Government, there were approximately 1,600 ILF recipients in Wales.
To develop and advise upon the options for long term support Ministers undertook a consultation exercise and established a stakeholder advisory group. There was a range of views amongst stakeholders. Following discussion amongst the advisory group, Ministers announced in late 2016 a two-year transition period, beginning in April 2017. During this time all former ILF recipients in Wales who were now in receipt of payments under WILG would have that element of their care needs assessed by the local authority, a care plan to deliver their wellbeing outcomes agreed, and a care and support package to deliver these put in place.
People would continue to receive payments from their local authority until their new support had been implemented; only at that point would payments cease and the monies be used as a contribution to the cost of providing that new support. These elements of care assessment and provision would be undertaken in accordance with the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014. Strong advocacy support is a feature of this transition to local authority care and support. This means that the care and support plan should be developed on a co-productive basis.
To support this, the available funding of £27 million p.a. was included on a recurrent basis in the local government settlement from 2018-19.
Welsh Government has since the start of the transition period monitored closely local authorities’ performance and will continue to do so. From the start of the two-year transition period in April 2017 to the end of December last year over 1,200 people out of the total of just under 1,300 people had their future care needs reviewed and agreed with their local authority. The remainder were scheduled to complete this by the end of March 2019. By December over 950 people were receiving their support from their local authority to facilitate their independent living, either direct from their authority or via direct payments to purchase this care themselves.
The interim findings of the independent evaluation survey by the All-Wales Forum of Parents and Carers of People with Learning Disabilities, which are based on the views of disabled people and their carers, show that the majority of people who have responded to the survey are satisfied with new arrangements.
However, as former ILF recipients had not been subject to a care assessment since 2015 when the fund was ended, this reassessment has caused tension in some cases. I understand the concerns of some of the people affected by the change of approach.
A ‘deep dive’ review undertaken by the Minister for Children, Older People and Social Care in November revealed that a large majority of former ILF recipients are receiving either the same package of care and support as they were previously, or additional hours. However, 13 per cent of people at that point had experienced a reduction in hours of support and although in many cases these reduced hours had been agreed by all parties, some people were unhappy with their situation. Considerable local variation is evident, with the percentage of former ILF recipients within a local authority whose hours of care have reduced ranging from 0% to 42%.
I have considered the available evidence and concluded that the variation between local authorities warrants a change in direction. I have therefore written to local government leaders to request a pause of the transition with immediate effect in order to bring in revised arrangements.
The details of new arrangements need to be worked through with local authorities, but the key elements I am seeking to secure are that:
- An independent social work assessment will be offered to all former ILF recipients who are unhappy with their care and support package and would like a second opinion. This independent view will mirror the arrangements that existed under the ILF and so will restore a tripartite decision making system;
- Welsh Government will provide additional funding to local authorities for the cost of independent social workers and additional care hours that may result from these independent assessments. This means that there can be no question of changes to a care and support package being a cost cutting measure;
- The under pinning principle in undertaking that independent assessment is that the result should be consistent with people’s agreed wellbeing outcomes. As there is no financial barrier, no-one need have less favourable care and support than they had under ILF; and
- These arrangements acknowledge the historical entitlement of former ILF recipients.
This is a significant change of approach that ensures that the needs of former WILG recipients will be fully met, and that resources are no barrier to a full package of care and support. I will be seeking to work closely with local government leaders over the coming weeks to take this approach forward.
I would like to thank Nathan Davies and his colleagues from the “# Save the WILG” campaign for the representations they have made to Welsh Government on this matter. I have met with Nathan twice in the last three weeks to hear his concerns and seek to develop a new approach. I understand that Nathan is supportive in principle of the approach I intend to take. We share a common interest in seeing it implemented properly.