The Assembly’s Health and Social Care Committee has been scrutinising Wales’ first major social services Bill. If passed by the Assembly the Social Services and Wellbeing (Wales) Bill will provide a new framework for social services in Wales which will be distinct from the rest of the UK.
The Bill includes a new emphasis on preventative services and wellbeing, and improving information and advice for people who need social care services. It aims to strengthen safeguarding arrangements and provide better access to services for carers and it will introduce a new national eligibility framework to help reduce variation in access to services across Wales.
To help achieve these aims the Bill seeks to strengthen co-operation and partnership working, particularly between health and social services and to promote co-operatives, social enterprises and third sector providers. The Welsh Government sees enhancing voice and control for people who use social services as a key objective of the Bill.
The Welsh Government’s intention has been to create a ‘people’ Bill which sets out the framework of services for all groups of care users: adults, children and carers. This is in keeping with the aim of integrated social services for people of all ages.
The Bill is the culmination of a long process of discussion and consultation by the Welsh Government and social services stakeholders which has included an Independent Commission on Social Services in Wales and a Social Work Workforce Task Group. The Welsh Government published a White Paper Sustainable Social Services in 2011, and last year it consulted on its proposals for a social services Bill.
The Bill has generated a lot of interest in Wales and many individuals and organisations have contributed evidence, both to the Welsh Government’s consultation and to the Health and Social Care Committee. Twenty eight organisations appeared before the Committee. Four groups of young people and a panel of adults with experience of social services also gave evidence. The Assembly’s Outreach Team ran eight focus groups of older people in five regions of Wales to hear their views on two key aspects of the Bill: adult safeguarding and voice and control.
A number of third sector and professional organisations formed an advisory group on the Bill which fed its views to the Committee.
The Assembly’s Children and Young People Committee also held two evidence sessions in April 2013 to scrutinise those elements of the Bill affecting children and young people.
The Health and Social Care Committee has finished its stage 1 scrutiny of the Bill in which it looks at the general principles, and will consider amendments as stage 2 of the process in the autumn. It will publish its stage 1 report by 19 July.
There is still some way to go before the Bill becomes law but the hope is that it will provide the foundations for social services to meet the challenges of providing better services in the face of rising demand, higher expectations and the current squeeze on spending.
Article by Stephen Boyce, National Assembly for Wales Research Service