New social care legislation passed at Holyrood

New legislation that will allow disabled people to buy their own alternatives to council-run social care has been passed by the Scottish Parliament.

The Social Care (Self-directed Support) (Scotland) Bill will place a duty on councils to offer disabled people the option of cash to arrange their own private care or to have it allocated to a provider of their choice.

It was backed unanimously at Holyrood, although concerns were raised about its supposedly limited ability to protect less-severely disabled people from inappropriate carers, and the potential for councils to charge carers for services such as training and respite cover.

Public health minister Michael Matheson said the new law “marks a significant step in meeting the expectations of those who receive social care, both now and in the future”.

He sought to “put to rest some of the misplaced speculation that this Government intends to use this Bill to widen councils’ discretion to charge carers”.

“I plan to use the powers provided as a result of section 16 of the Bill to issue regulations that will make clear that all charges for support to carers should be waived in whole,” he said. “So, to be abundantly clear, carers will not be charged for the support they receive.”

His assurance was welcomed by Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie, who said councils could use the Bill to levy more charges on carers for training or respite cover.

She added: “As matters stand local authorities currently charge, Section 16 of the Bill tells them they can charge if they want, and with local government genuinely shouldering a burden of cuts they may be forced into a position of having to apply charges.”

Mr Matheson also rejected Labour’s bid to insert safeguards to protect less-severely disabled people from the “undue influence” of inappropriate individuals. He said he intends to address these concerns in statutory guidance but said inserting tougher restrictions into the Bill would limit disabled people’s choice.

Labour`s amendment was designed to ensure that “those who do not qualify under the Adults With Incapacity Act or under the Vulnerable Adults Bill, but who are nevertheless possibly vulnerable and not completely robust in their disability, are protected from undue influence from individuals who might be unsuitable”.