Wales politics

Social Services Bill 'puts users in control of care'

Care worker with elderly person
Image caption Ministers say the bill will give people more say over the care they receive

Changes to the law will give people more control over their social services, the Welsh government says.

The Social Services Bill will give users a legal set of rights and offer them more chances to handle their own care budgets.

Councils are being asked to intervene early and may even share social services directors under the proposals.

The Welsh government says that demand from an aging population makes the current system "unsustainable".

Ministers began consulting on their plans on Monday.

The bill would give people of all ages the right to have their needs assessed.

The government says it wants more "coherence" in the way social services are delivered and to make the system more "transparent".

National criteria will be introduced to determine what services people are entitled to.

Officials say assessments will be more "proportionate", so there are no longer long and complicated tests to decide if someone, for example, needs help getting into the shower.

The legislation would also give ministers broader powers to direct social services to work with other council departments and local health boards, including through pooling their budgets.

Ministers would be able to act when they believe it is in the interests of people receiving services, rather than having to wait for things to go wrong before they step in.

Direct payments, where councils hand over cash to people so they pay for the services they receive, could be extended.

Although they have become more popular, direct payments are only taken by about 3,000 of the 150,000 social services users in Wales.

Consultation on the plans will last until 1 June with the bill due to be tabled in the autumn.

It also proposes a single adoption agency for Wales, first discussed last year. There are currently 23 adoption agencies in Wales.

'Consistent approach'

Gwenda Thomas, deputy minister for children and social services, said: "It is about giving people a stronger voice and real control over the social care services they use, and to help meet their changing needs.

"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."

Age Cymru head of policy Graeme Francis told Radio Wales that there was a need for a consistent approach so that people could find out clear entitlements to social care for themselves or a family member.

He said: "People don't really know what to expect from the system when they get there, and sometimes the arrangements and the amount [to which] they have to rely on themselves and their families can be a surprise.

"People need to know that when they or a relative get to that stage, they know what they can expect and how they arrange the system.

"At the moment, some people have to do everything themselves. A lot of people assume [social care] is part of the NHS, and it's not."

He said the charity broadly agreed with a recommendation by the Dilnot Commission - reviewing long-term funding of care in the elderly in England - that an individual's contributions to social care costs be capped at £35,000.

Care Forum Wales, which represents more than 500 people in private social care, said in January that the bill was the "most important development in social care for two generations".

It believes the bill will help to reduce bed blocking in hospitals by providing more appropriate and more cost-effective care in the community.

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