Welsh social care bill unveiled

Legislation will see the creation of a national adoption service, national assessment eligibility criteria and give carers equal legal rights to those they look after

Major legislation set to transform social services and strengthen powers for safeguarding children and adults has been unveiled in Wales.

The social services and wellbeing bill, presented to the National Assembly by Gwenda Thomas, the deputy minister for social services and children, will allow the extension of services available by direct payments and introduce a national eligibility criteria and national outcomes framework in Wales.

Portable assessments – where service users do not need to be reassessed if they move from one authority to another – are also proposed in the bill, alongside a national adoption service and plans to give carers equal legal rights to those they look after.

The Welsh government has called the bill a “game changer” in transforming the provision of social care in Wales, claiming that current legislation is not capable of supporting the service change required to deal with a growing, ageing population.

The plans have been welcomed by the social care sector, despite worries in some quarters that the Welsh government may have tried to bite off more than they can chew.

Robin Moulster, Welsh manager of the British Association of Social Workers explained: “There are many important issues contained which will help to provide better services across Wales, but the government have tried to include a lot, and there is a risk that they are including too many things.”

And Arwel Ellis, chair of the Care Council for Wales, added: “We particularly welcome the step change in the role of social workers and social care managers and workers, with a shift in emphasis on processes to working with people to make the changes necessary to improve their situation.”

There are 70,000 workers in the care sector in Wales, and every year around 150,000 people receive help from social care services.

In contrast to the Department of Health’s draft care and support bill, the Welsh bill will cover social care services for children, adults and their carers and will aim to “integrate and align arrangements so that there is a common set of processes” in social care.

Original plans to include legislation regulating the inspection of social care services were removed during consultation last year and will be proposed in a separate white paper expected later in 2013.

Thomas said that the bill is about giving people a stronger voice and real control over the social care services they use, in order to meet changing needs in social care provision. “Assessments for service users and their carers must be about the outcomes that are important to them, not just about eligibility for a particular service,” she said.

“There will be a stronger focus through the bill on preventative and early intervention services, based on greater partnership working and integration of services between local authorities and partners.

“This bill will help us all tackle the many challenges facing social services in Wales, but will also allow us all to seize the opportunities before us”.

Moulster of the British Association of Social Workers added that plans to encourage authorities to work closer sounded like a good idea, but that services also need to be enabled locally. “Wales needs to get away from a tickbox mentality,” he said. “Unless there is a real commitment for organisations to allow and encourage relationship-based social work services, these aims will never become reality.

“There are good bits in the bill, but it will only work if the culture is right,” he added.

The bill will now be scrutinised by the Welsh health and social care committee and is expected to gain royal assent later this year.