Social Service Bill: An opportunity and challenge

Graeme Francis, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Age Cymru, looks at the opportunies provided by the Social Service (Wales) Bill to improve safeguards for vulnerable adults. 

How we care for some of the most vulnerable people in our society has recently been near the top of the UK news and political agendas, due to a combination of stories coming together.  

These include the report of the Dilnot Commission, financial troubles at Southern Cross, several revelations of failures to provide adequate care, and concern about the impact of cuts in local authority care budgets.

Care services are of major importance to many people in Wales. 

In 2009-10 93,379 adults received community based services from local authorities in Wales and on 31st March 2010 there were 13,643 placements of adults in residential care.

Unsurprisingly the vast majority of recipients of both services were older people.

The Welsh Government has signalled its intention to bring forward a Social Service (Wales) Bill to provide “a coherent Welsh legal framework for social services” for the first time, using the primary legislative powers gained in the March referendum.

This is a real opportunity for Wales to clearly establish people’s rights and entitlements to care services and to make essential improvements to how those services are delivered.

Replacing the existing patchwork of legislation and case law which has been built up since the Second World War will be a major task and will likely end up being the largest single piece of Welsh legislation to date. 

It must be developed extremely carefully in order to adequately protect the valuable entitlements for people with care needs and disabilities built up over that time.

Proposals to establish national eligibility criteria for services and introduce portable assessments of need have the potential to tackle some of the wide inconsistencies in the current system, but must be designed to avoid a situation where people lose valuable help and support. 

This is an area where the devil will be in the detail.

The legislation also has the potential to deliver significant improvements to the protection offered to some of the most vulnerable older people in society: those suffering or at risk of abuse. 

The First Minister has indicated that “a robust and coherent statutory framework to safeguard children and adults” will form part of the new legislation. 

We strongly support this element which reflects recommendations made by the Protection of Vulnerable Adults Project Board earlier this year.

Extensive work carried out by Age Cymru has shown that much abuse and neglect of older people occurs in their own homes, often at the hands of friends or family members.

This is contrary to more widespread public recognition of abuse in institutional care settings or criminal scams.

As a result we believe it is vital that the current definition of a ‘vulnerable adult’ within adult protection procedures is broadened so that it is not simply linked to people in need of community care services.

Current adult protection arrangements are significantly weaker than those in relation to child protection. 

For example, the Children Act 2004 places a duty on key people and bodies to ensure that their functions are discharged with regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, but no equivalent duty exists in relation to vulnerable adults. 

The same is true in the lack of duties to investigate, cooperate and to share information in relation to adult protection. This can lead to variations in time taken to investigate and assess risk in individual situations.

The Social Service (Wales) Bill provides an opportunity to establish clear and appropriate entitlements to vital care services and to improve the way we safeguard some of the most vulnerable people in Wales.

It is an opportunity which must not be missed.

Advice line:
08000 223 444

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