I have received the following letter from Huw Irranca-Davies AM, Minister for Children and Social Care following our meeting last month.
I was disappointed with my performance at the meeting and now I am disappointed with the letter that the Minister has sent. It is the sort of letter we’d expect to get from a government minister; it appears detailed and thorough, but it seems to avoid the reality on the ground.
I also need to properly formulate my argument into five key points that I would like to ask the Minister to avoid him trailing off and talking about general issues. I will do this later this afternoon. I had hoped that by listening to me talk about the problems disabled people would be facing in dealing with local authorities only, that Huw Irranca-Davies would have responded with a more positive and original letter full of hope and pragmatic free thinking. Unfortunately, I received the following:
Thank you for meeting me to discuss the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) and for sharing your experiences and concerns. It is important to me to see how the decisions we make as a government are translating into delivery for people on the ground. As we discussed, I am writing in response to some of the points which were raised, and to give you an update on further actions.
At our meeting you explained that you thought there had been separate public consultations held in 2014 – one for recipients and the third sector, and another for local authorities on the principle of four potential options for future support arrangements for former recipients of the Independent Living Fund (ILF). I would like to assure you this was not the case. Only one consultation was held with all the responses considered together.
You also raised the issue of accessibility of the consultation for recipients. To address this issue various versions of the consultation were produced including a Welsh language version, a braille version, easy-read and easy-to-read version. The latter versions were produced with assistance from the RNIB and Learning Disability Wales. I understand from my officials that a large number of the easy-read and easy-to-read versions were issued where recipients and their families felt these would aid their understanding of the consultation.
On the substantive issue of a scheme to succeed the ILF, you asked why the option of a Welsh Independent Living Scheme put forward by Stephen Harris of the Dewis Centre for Independent Living was not considered further, as you believed this option received most support from respondents. However, as the consultation summary indicates, the most supported option was in fact the potential for arrangements in Wales similar to that of the ILF. As Shiela may recollect as a member of the stakeholder group who advised Welsh Government, when the detail of how a resulting shortlist of options could be implemented that option was indeed considered further.
However, the Welsh Independent Living Scheme option did not make that shortlist for several reasons. While on the face of it the scheme would adhere to the principles behind the establishment of the ILF, many opposed it as the funding would not go to the individual but to their local authority to fund the cost of their care package. The only way under this option that recipients could continue to have control over the support payments they received would be through direct payments from their local authority. In addition many were concerned that the increased numbers of disabled people in Wales, who local authorities could claim funding for from the scheme, would result in the threshold to access this system having to be set at a very high level in order to make the scheme affordable. This was in light of the fixed, finite funding the UK Government transferred to the Welsh Government to fund the support of former recipients of the ILF. This could have had the potential to reduce the funding the scheme could provide to authorities in individual cases. In view of these concerns Ministers at the time concluded it was not suitable to pursue this option further.
It is important to emphasise that the decisions taken in consultation with the stakeholder group have at all times sought to ensure people with disabilities in Wales have the right to live independently at home and are supported to do so. As a government we have acted to underpin this in legislation through our Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014. The Act is changing the way people are supported to give them more voice and control over the care and support they require to meet their own wellbeing outcomes. It is encouraging to see increasing evidence of this approach becoming standard practice across Wales to the benefit of those who rely on support, and with a positive effect on the future support packages which are being agreed for WILG recipients.
We also discussed the monitoring of the two year transition period, where I confirmed we collect periodic data from local authorities on their progress. As of November last year over 350 recipients in Wales, of the 1,300 recipients in total, were already in the process of agreeing their future support package with their authority, with over 30 having now decided to transfer to receiving their support through their support package. While this is positive, I agree we need to widen this monitoring to also collect qualitative data on the outcomes which WILG recipients are experiencing, and I am currently considering ways in which this could be done. In addition I am acutely aware if we are to support recipients to live independent lives, authorities need an appropriate amount of time to undertake reviews with them and for recipients to have time to agree their future support packages do this. As a result I am also considering whether there is a need to adjust the transition to allow authorities more time to complete these reviews given the numbers involved and the fact that a large number of recipients have complex care needs.
Finally, you raised several concerns about the approach of Wrexham County Borough Council to care assessments and to the transition process for recipients of the WILG to local authority support. In the light of your concerns my officials will seek direct assurances from the local authority over its implementation of the transition process and its reviews of recipients’ future support needs.
I will write to you again with a progress update on the transition to the new support payments, including any potential changes for the transition and the monitoring of the transition, and response to your concerns over local implementation. In the meantime I am copying this letter for information to both Ian Lucas MP and Sheila Meadows, and I thank you again for taking the time to meet me and discuss these important matters.
Huw Irranca-Davies AC/AM
Y Gweinidog Gofal Cymdeithasol a Phlant
Minister for Children and Social Care
I WILL BE RESPONDING TO THIS LETTER OVER THE NEXT FEW WEEKS. MY RESPONCE WILL BE PUBLISHED ON THIS BLOG IN FULL.