David Rowlands AM

Response to Letter from Huw Irranca-Davies to the Chair of the Petitions Committee #SaveWILG

Below you can find my response to Mr David Rowlands – Chair of the Senedd Petitions Committee – in answer to the previous letter from the Minister for Children, Older People and Social Care, Huw Irranca-Davies.

 ***

3rd December 2018

Dear Mr Rowlands,

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to respond to the letter you received from the Minister for Children, Older People and Social Care regarding the planned closure of the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG).

For this letter I have decided to list my responses to the Minister’s letter in an easy-to-read, bullet point format. This will allow the Committee time to access the key points against the weak arguments put forward by the Minister and the Welsh Government.

Without further ado, I will begin listing the reasons for which we strongly disagree with the Minister for Children, Older People and Social Care.

The Minister begins his letter by stating that the purpose of the changes to Social Care are to end the “two-tier arrangement” that currently exists in order to provide a level playing field to all disabled people. The Minister is referring to a two-tier system that the Welsh Government chose to perpetuate. Meanwhile, during the consultation process ahead of the introduction of WILG, there were a number of other options on the table.  Option 4 proposed opening up the WILG for new applicants. This option was never fully investigated by the Welsh Government who seem averse to investing in people.

    The #SaveWILG campaign fully supports equality across the board and it is a bizarre argument that says essential support should be jeopardised to give equal treatment to all. What is actually happening is an EQUALISATION DOWNWARD, however subtle and however long it takes to materialise. We cannot just sit back and let this happen.

    It is not AND never has been an excuse not to do something because it is “difficult to unpick”. It would ONLY create “turmoil” if the Welsh Government handled it badly. It does not inspire confidence to witness such a lack of self-belief by our elected representatives. Of course, the obvious point is that there is mass turmoil NOW precisely BECAUSE of what the Welsh Government are doing. I’m afraid that those in power will have to put in the hours to make up for their initial mistakes against the warnings from disabled people and their families.

    In his letter, the Minister tries to blind the Committee with statistics. I prefer to concentrate on the human aspect and the number of emails that the #SaveWILG campaign receives regularly. These confidential messages are often found with tales of struggle, depression and desperation. On paper it is easy to ignore the negative effects of policies, but in the real world those that are directly affected deserve to be listened to. A large majority of struggling recipients do not have the ability to speak out against the Government in the way that I have done. Furthermore, many recipients are too afraid of the consequences of criticising Councils that have so much control over their lives.  This was why arrangements under the ILF provided a safety net for disabled people: because assessments were carried out by independent Social Workers, who could not be manipulated by local authorities.

    We are told that the Minister has instructed local authorities to perform a “deep dive” into the WILG transition. How can we begin to trust the findings of local authorities when they are under such immense pressure to cut costs due to a lack of funding from Central Government? Disabled people must be protected in the face of these cuts and not be seen as an easy group to exploit.

    I fully believe that the Welsh Government have a responsibility to support disabled people and should work with them instead of pointing them towards cash-strapped local authorities, many of whom do not have an adequate complaints procedure in place.

    The Minister and his team have repeatedly told us this is not about money. However, when we say that the Government should open WILG to all disabled people, they repeatedly say they can’t afford it. So, it is about money, then?

    This situation has arisen because of the heartless closure of the ILF by the UK Government but the current mistakes confusion, mess and inconsistencies proves that the Welsh Government are heading in the wrong direction.  Disabled people with high care and support needs are the ones paying the price for these errors.

    At no point do we see the Minister or the Welsh Government acknowledging that MOST WILG recipients are not able to contribute on a level playing field to any consultation. There seems to be a complete – I am sure unconscious – lack of understanding about this. People are not machines that fit neatly into box-ticking exercises.

    Informing us of the huge delays already, shows that the turmoil, and lack of a competent working system, already exists. Hence the need to make sure long-term that those who need this support most, do not have to worry about this kind of upheaval on a yearly basis.

    THE most important thing is the healthcare & support for recipients. Many do not have the luxury of time to be fighting this full-throttle. Let me be clear though, there are plenty of us fortunate enough not to be in their position who will never give up or shut up about this.

    QUESTION FOR COMMITTEE MEMBERS: When do we expect to get the full, published, unedited or un-amended report from the review? 

    Thank you very much indeed for facilitating this process. I am grateful to you and everyone at the Petitions Committee for taking the time to listen and consider our strong arguments.

    Yours in hope,

    Nathan Lee Davies

    #SaveWILG campaign

    Letter from Huw Irranca-Davies to the Chair of the Petitions Committee #SaveWILG

     This is the letter that Huw Irranca-Davies has written to the Chair of the Petitions Committee – Mr David Rowlands – defending the Welsh Government’s decision to close WILG.

    My response appears in the next blog in which I have totally decimated the weak arguments in favour of signalling an end to the Welsh Independent Living Grant. 

    The fight continues…

    ***

     Dear David, 

     Thank you for your letter of 31 October in connection with Nathan Davies’ petition to reconsider the closure of the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG). 

    Before I respond to your questions I think it is important to remind ourselves of the purpose of the transition process we are undertaking.  We are introducing this change to ensure equality of access for all disabled people in Wales to support to live independently in the community.  This is to remove the two-tier arrangement which existed previously, where some were able to access support from their local authority and payments from the Independent Living Fund (ILF), while others, because of the UK Government’s decision to close the ILF to new applicants in 2010, have only been able to access support from their authority.  Hence the objective of this transition, and of the support reviews being undertaken within it, is to ensure all disabled people are empowered in a consistent way to be able to live independently in a manner that is appropriate in their particular circumstances.  This could be by support provided directly from their local authority, by support provided by direct payments from their authority, by support provided in other ways (such as from the third sector, family or friends) or by a mix of any of these.  This is the ethos and cornerstone the social services legislation we introduced and something which every disabled person in Wales deserves access to irrespective of how they may have been supported in the past. 

    Given the objective, and as I outline below the support for the majority of the disabled people affected by this transition is now being provided though their local authority, it is difficult to see how this could now be unpicked to reinstate the WILG as Mr Davies’ petitions without creating turmoil for those that have been through this transition. 

    We welcome receiving correspondence in Welsh.  Any correspondence received in Welsh will be answered in Welsh and corresponding in Welsh will not lead to a delay in responding. 

    As you say we have now completed our latest quarterly monitoring of local authorities’ progress in transitioning people who used to receive WILG payments to receiving their support to live independently through their local authority.  This latest monitoring covers the period up to the end of September this year and details of this are below.  Overall this shows good progress in undertaking future support reviews with people affected, in agreeing with them their future support package to deliver their wellbeing outcomes and in putting these in place to provide that support. 

    The data provided by local authorities shows that of the 1,336 people who were originally in receipt of payments under the WILG, over 1,242 (93%) had by the end of September completed or were in the process of completing their support review with their local authority.  As a result 717 people (54%) had now agreed their future support package with their local authority and were receiving this through their authority.  In the majority of these cases (531 – 74% of the 717) people were receiving support of a similar level and nature to that they would have received if they had still been receiving payments under the WILG.  In around 100 of the 717 (14%) the level of support being provided had increased due to the dependency of the person increasing since their last review.  In around 86 of the 717 cases (12%) the support from the authority itself has reduced as it was thought more appropriate in those people’s circumstances if the support they required was provided in a different manner than previously (such as support provided from a third party). 

    With a small number of people (20) their review identified it was no longer appropriate for them to receive community care from their local authority, either because the person had developed a need for healthcare or was now in need of some form of residential based care.  

    This left around 64 people who were at that time yet to begin their support review.  This is due to a mixture of social worker capacity within a small number of authorities, where they had not by that time been able to engage with all people affected, and a number of people who to date have not themselves engaged with their authority despite authorities’ approaches to them to do so.  As a result we have sought, and received, assurances from the seven authorities concerned that these remaining reviews will be completed by the end of the year at the latest so as not to impact upon the future support they agree with their authority being place by the end of March next year when the period for this transition is due to end. 

    Out of all the reviews completed as at the end of September there were 17 people who were challenging the outcome of their support reviews.  This is just under 2% of the people who had undergone their review with their authority. 

    Despite this good progress I am not complacent.  You will have seen the recent media coverage of this transition which focussed heavily on those people who are to receive less direct support from their local authority, with little or no reference to the majority who to receive the similar support from their local authority or indeed are to receive more.  I have, therefore, to be assured of this position, asked local authorities to undertake a deep dive review of all cases where following a support review there is an intention to reduce the authority’s direct support to the person.  This is to identify the reasons for this decision and the exact scale of any reductions and to receive from each Director of Social Services a personal assurance that where such changes occur they are appropriate and do not impact on people’s ability to live independently in the community.  The results of this deep dive review are due to be received and analysed by the end of November.  

    In addition to this I intend to undertake a series of regional meetings with Directors and Cabinet members for Health and Social Services within authorities to discuss the outcome of these reviews to ensure that it is the case that any reduction in direct support from an authority is not impacting on people’s ability to live independently.  My officials are in the process of arranging these meetings, which I hope to have concluded by early December.  That said, I have already visited both Wrexham County Borough Council and Powys County Council to meet their Directors and Cabinet Members and have received their assurance that people affected are genuinely being empowered to live independently to deliver their wellbeing outcomes. 

    You ask about the possibility of requiring local authorities to report the actual expenditure they incur on people who transition to local authority support.  The level of expenditure on the support an individual requires is, of course, dependent on the level, nature and complexity of that support as identified by their support review.  It is not determined by a standard amount per person and so the level of expenditure will vary from person to person as the support they require will vary.  As a result the fact that one person may be having more or less expenditure on their support than another is not an indicator of the appropriateness of that support, but of the cost of support they require. 

    Added to this it must be remembered that all people who received payments under the WILG would also have received a level of care and support from their local authority which it would have funded separately.  This is because this was a qualifying condition originally set by the ILF for receiving payments.  As such it is difficult to see how authorities could, if this request was made, separate out the cost of only one element of over 1,000 people’s overall support package or indeed what value there would be in doing so. 

    What I can say is that the full funding of £27 million a year transferred from the UK Government to support people affected has been added from this year to the Revenue Support Grant on a recurrent basis.  Not a single penny of this has been retained centrally.  As a result no local authority has raised with me or my officials that a lack of funding is an issue with this transition or that this is adversely affecting the outcomes which they able to receive for people affected. 

    Yours sincerely, 

    Huw Irranca-Davies AC/AM 

    Minister for Children, Older People and Social Care 

    Get Involved: Send an Email to Leadership Candidates #SaveWILG

    I am asking all my loyal readers and comrades to spare 3 minutes of their time and send the following postcard picture and message to the 3 Welsh Labour leadership candidates, plus other important figures who will be able to influence Welsh Government thinking with regard to the Welsh Independent Living Grant.

    The email can be copied and pasted from below. It should include an inline image of the postcard to maximise impact. The end of WILG is imminent and we MUST keep up the pressure and show those in power that we are not going anywhere. We will continue to protest and defend the rights of disabled people with high care and support needs across Wales.

    Help us do this by sending the email below. Thanks, as ever, for your support.

    ***

    SUBJECT: Save the Welsh Independent Living Grant (#SaveWILG) 
     
    Message to Mark Drakeford AM, Eluned Morgan AM, Vaughan Gething AM (Delete as appropriate
     
    This is a crucial time for the future of Social Care in Wales. The SSWBA is an excellent piece of legislation, but it will take many years to come to fruition. 
     
    In the meantime, WILG recipients will be at the mercy of local authorities who are unprepared for this Act and are already threatening substantial cuts in the care and support services that recipients need to function as a part of their local communities.
     
    We are calling on the Welsh Government to reconsider the decision to end WILG as of April 2019 and fully explore the alternative options while listening to recipients and party members who voted overwhelmingly for a motion to save WILG  at the Welsh Labour conference in April 2018.
     
    Our campaign to save WILG  has won cross party support, two motions have been passed, a number of MP’s and AM’s have lent their support including Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. We have also had the backing of Unions and celebrities such as Ken Loach who all agree that the Freedom of Information work that we have done provides glaring evidence that disabled people with high care and support needs require and are entitled to third party support from an independent body.

    The 3 candidates can be emailed at the following addresses:

    Mark Drakeford AM: Mark.Drakeford@assembly.wales

    Eluned Morgan AM: Eluned.Morgan@assembly.wales

    Vaughan Gething AM: Vaughan.Gething@gov.wales

    While you are at it the same message could also be sent to the Minister for Older People, Children and Social Care Huw Irranca-Davies who is currently responsible for WILG. He can be contacted at Huw.Irranca-Davies@assembly.wales

    It is also important that we continue to put pressure on the Petitions Committee who need to realise that NOW is the time to write a report on WILG to help preserve disabled peoples rights in Wales and force the Welsh Government to take the necessary steps and #SaveWILG.

    David Rowlands: DavidJ.Rowlands@assembly.wales

    Janet Finch Saunders: Janet.Finch-Saunders@Assembly.Wales

    Mike Hedges: Mike.Hedges@assembly.wales

    Rhun Ap Iopwerth: rhun.apiorwerth@assembly.wales

    Neil McEvoy: Neil.McEvoy@assembly.wales

    Any help and support you can give would be much appreciated. Together we can make a difference…

    Letters to the chair of the Petitions Committee #SaveWILG

    Below I have included the latest letters from Huw Irancca- Davies and myself for the attention of David Rowland’s AM, Chair of the Petitions Committee regarding the planned closure of the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG).

    To read the letter from Huw Irancca-Davies, please click on the following link: 171115 P-05-771 Min for C & SC to Chair

     

    My response can be read in full below.

    29th January 2018

    Dear Mr Rowlands,

    Thank you for giving me the opportunity to respond to the letter you received from Huw Irancca- Davies AM regarding the planned closure of the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG).

    I received a copy of the summary response to the WILG consultation, but in my original response to the Minister involved – Rebecca Evans AM – I challenged her to release the data collected in the consultation rather than an edited summary. I feel that the actual responses would provide a clearer picture and avoid any suspicion of doctoring the results to fit the Government’s aims.

    As time ticks on this situation is getting more and more frightening. I believe a disaster is about to unfold and the Welsh Government does not have the humanity or humility to listen to the fears of disabled people and act accordingly when the overwhelming evidence indicates a step backwards for the right to Independent Living.

    In 2015, in the report on the consultation responses, we were given the impression that a “successor body” would be put in place in the long term:

     “The Minister will reconsider the steps needed to develop a Welsh successor body to the current ILF as a longer term solution.”

    One of the things that was made crystal clear throughout the consultation and all of the discussions, before and after, is that it is the experience of disabled people and unpaid Carers that some local authorities simply cannot be trusted to translate the 2014 Social Services and Well-being Act into genuine independent living for those who require high levels of support.

    The Equality Impact Assessment on the decision to end WILG and hand responsibility to local authorities to assess and fund support for these disabled people asserted that: “Recipients in future will be supported by their local authority based on the well-being outcomes they are seeking to achieve. These will directly support their independent living. As such the rights of recipients to live as they wish will be upheld.” and promised that: “Over the period of the two-year transition period the Welsh Government will monitor how each local authority is progressing with its reviews of recipients and the outcomes that result from these. This will be to ensure that recipients have reviews to time, that their future well-being outcomes are being identified with them and that the support they require is being provided rather than separate payments from social care provision.”

    Unfortunately, some local authorities have been seen to reject the core elements of the 2014 Act and assert that disabled people “must accept whatever local authorities decide for them” and that “disabled people cannot be allowed to tell paid carers how to support them because that would be illegal under health and safety law.” Some people who had been granted overnight cover were unable to employ staff because they only had a £30 per night budget – even after the authority had been shown case law on at least minimum wage payment for night working.

    We live in an atmosphere of distrust of disabled people due to many years of right wing media representation of disabled people as liars and scroungers and this atmosphere and the attitudes it engenders pervades public life however much that is denied by authorities. Some people in receipt of WILG funding have been told explicitly that once they have been reassessed by the local authority their level of support will be reduced.

    Welsh Government’s assertion that everyone’s wellbeing will be protected because of the 2014 Act is naive at best and dishonest at worst. It is no secret that a Medical Model attitude towards disabled people remains endemic and institutionalised across the public sector and it is clear from the regional needs assessments and particularly Social Care Wales’ summary report, that there is no understanding of the distinction between ‘being independent’ [meaning managing without support] and ‘Independent Living’ that Welsh Government have formally accepted as meaning disabled people living the lives they choose, in the way they choose and supported how, when, where and by whom they choose. I would like to explain just how worrying the current situation is; with the new proposal not ring-fencing the money, and the removal of the Welsh Government’s direct responsibility, the new outcome will almost certainly mean less money/carer hours for me, at a time when I am going to potentially require 24 hour, NON-RESIDENTIAL, care.

    If recipients of WILG could see the “transformational change” across social services promised by successive Minsters and nominally guaranteed by the 2014 SSWb Act then I believe fears of unfair and inhuman treatment would to an extent be allayed. Unfortunately, what is experienced is that local authorities vary enormously as to whether their attitudes towards disabled people and genuine Independent Living reflect the 2014 Act or, in some cases, 1980s attitudes and policies that would sentence disabled people to isolation in their own homes or imprisonment in ‘care’ institutions. People who require support to use the toilet during the night are being instructed to use incontinence materials. People who have no independent mobility are being left in their homes without support for several hours at a time – in fear for their lives should any accident happen and intensely frustrated that they cannot function in any capacity until the next staff come on shift.

    However, the other element of the Independent Living Fund was that independent Social Workers carried out the assessments and reviews so that disabled people felt protected by the independent oversight of a qualified and experienced social worker who could not be intimidated by the local authority.

    What is needed urgently is a hold on transferring funding into full local authority control; we think although WILG is a much better option than the current proposal, it is something in itself that could be improved. We also note that current proposals do not take into account the capacity of the recipient to take on the delegated responsibilities. This seems to us to be a double-whammy against recipients.

    I would like to place on record my thanks to Huw Irranca-Davies for taking the time to come and see me in my home. Can you please also make him aware of this. However, in retrospect, the one thing he did say that has kept me awake at night since, was “I am not here to change policy”. I, along with 1,500-odd other recipients, cannot contemplate this remaining as his ‘mantra’ going forward. This goes right to the heart of the issue-the Welsh Government must realise why this change is not necessary, absolutely not wanted, and not an option. Sorry to be blunt, but we are talking about massive, negatively life-changing consequences. It really is that serious.

    Should you need any further information please do not hesitate to get in touch using my contact details above. I would be very grateful if you could ensure Huw Irranca-Davies personally receives a copy of this letter.

     THANK YOU VERY MUCH, I/WE TRULY APPRECIATE ALL SUPPORT & CONSIDERATION

    Yours sincerely

    Nathan Lee Davies

    I have provided some links below to show how we are busy campaigning in the media and the community to Save WILG, despite my own personal high care and support needs:

    https://nathanleedavies.wordpress.com/2018/01/26/windfall-for-councils-savewilg/

    https://nathanleedavies.wordpress.com/2018/01/24/links-and-updates/

    I also include below minutes of a meeting that I had with Huw Irancca–Davies concerning WILG. This meeting did little to address my fears for the future and no one seems to be listening to the voices of disabled people:

    https://nathanleedavies.wordpress.com/2018/01/20/minutes-of-meeting-with-hue-irranca-davies-savewilg/

    ***

    Both these letters will help the petitions committee decide on their next course of action when they meet on Tuesday morning.

    Dear Petitioner

     Your petition will be considered at our next meeting on Tuesday 6 February; starting at 9.00am.

     I enclose a link to the Agenda and Public Papers for your consideration:

     http://senedd.assembly.wales/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=430&MId=4523&Ver=4

    A live broadcast of the meeting will be available on Senedd TV at:

     http://www.senedd.tv/  

    Kind Regards

    Petitions Committee