Julie Morgan AM

Disability News Service: Appeal to hundreds across Wales to seek independent assessments of support needs #SaveWILG

The following article was written by John Pring and appears on the excellent Disability News Service website, which can be accessed by clicking here.

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A disabled campaigner is encouraging hundreds of recipients of support through the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) scheme to consider taking up the government’s offer of an independent re-assessment of their care package.

The Welsh government announced in February that it was pausing the closure of the WILG scheme – and its replacement with a system of council-funded support – following a campaign by disabled activists and allies.

Julie Morgan, the Welsh government’s deputy minister for health and social services, then wrote last month to all WILG recipients to tell them they could ask for a reassessment of their care package if they were unhappy with the outcome of their local authority’s assessment of their post-WILG needs or if that assessment had not yet taken place.

And she assured them that the Welsh government would pay for the independent assessment and any extra care and support they might need as a result.

Morgan has now written to Nathan Lee Davies, the WILG recipient who led the campaign to halt the closure of the scheme, updating him on the government’s progress.

She told him that only 26 WILG recipients had so far requested a re-assessment, across 10 local authorities.

Morgan said in her letter: “It is important that those people who wish to have an independent assessment are able to access it, but this is also in the context of the large number of people who we know are content with their new arrangements.”

Davies believes about 1,300 disabled people are eligible for a re-assessment, and fears that many WILG recipients are being held back from requesting a re-assessment.

He is now calling on all those WILG recipients who are not happy with their care and support package to ask for an independent assessment.

Davies, who has himself requested an independent assessment, said: “I started this campaign four years ago, after a social worker warned me that without the WILG my hours of support would be reduced from 86.5 hours a week to just 31 hours per week.

“I would be unable to maintain any quality of life without a substantial increase in my support and any reduction would leave me struggling to exist rather than living the life that I choose.

“The use of an independent social worker allows me to be assessed purely on my physical and mental needs.

“I feel that social workers from local authorities are under pressure from their managers to reduce costs, whatever the consequences.

“Assessments are therefore skewed from the outset and I fear that a number of WILG recipients are not receiving the support they deserve.

“Let’s not forget that all WILG recipients are disabled people with high support needs.

“This means that many need a strong network of people around them to give them the confidence to press for improvements.

“The fact that only 26 people have asked for a reassessment suggests that many WILG recipients are being held back by a combination of inertia, lack of support and advice and a sense of ‘better the devil you know’.

“I feel that an independent service will provide people with disabilities with greater security for the future.”

He added: “The government have listened to campaigners, reviewed the evidence and acted accordingly to ensure people get the support they deserve to live independently within their local communities.

“WILG recipients and their families need to investigate the opportunity that is in front of them to help ensure they have piece of mind for the long term future.”

WILG was set up – with UK government funding – as an interim scheme following the UK government’s decision to close the Independent Living Fund in June 2015.

The Welsh government is now closing WILG for good and transferring the funding to local councils, and by April the 22 local authorities were due to be solely responsible for meeting the support needs of all former ILF-recipients in Wales.

But Morgan announced the “change in direction” in February because a government review had shown a significant variation in how support packages were being cut by different councils.

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#SaveWILG Update: Letter from Julie Morgan

I received the following letter from the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services to update me on the progress of WILG assessments.

It makes for interesting reading. I will be writing in response to this letter soon, but for now I think it is important to make sure that everyone is fully informed of their rights.

Thanks to Julie Morgan as ever for her sterling work in making the independent assessments, a reality.

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Dear Nathan

Following my letter of 18th of April to former recipients of the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) regarding their ability to have an independent care assessment, I thought I would provide you with a brief update.

All local authorities have now have confirmed that they have circulated my letter to their former WILG recipients.  Clearly people will need time to consider whether to have an independent assessment.   I have asked recipients to let their local authority know their intentions by 14th June.  To date, I understand that twenty-six former recipients have expressed an interest in having an independent assessment of their care needs.  These are spread across ten authorities.

This number may well increase over the next three weeks.  It is important that those people who wish to have an independent assessment are able to access it, but this is also in the context of the large number of people who we know are content with their new arrangements.

As regards to the sourcing [of] the independent assessments, the tender process is about to close.  The bids we receive will be evaluated against bidders’ ability to meet quality and timeliness criteria, including to ensure the appropriate standard of social workers for the assessments are recruited.  This is with a view to a contract being agreed in early June, with the practical arrangements being finalised during June, for the assessments themselves to commence from July.

I trust this is helpful.  Please feel free to communicate this information to your network of former WILG recipients.

Yours sincerely

Julie Morgan AM
Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services

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BBC Report: Wales disability support cuts: Care to be re-assessed in July #SaveWILG

Elderly man in wheelchair

Re-assessments of severely disabled people unhappy with their care packages will not begin before July.

The Welsh Independent Living Grant has ended with councils funding care for more than 1,000 people receiving it.

In February, the Welsh Government announced anyone unhappy with their new council care package would be offered independent re-assessments.

Plaid Cymru said the wait was “way too long”. The Welsh Government has been asked to respond to the criticism.

In response to a Freedom of Information request, the Welsh Government told BBC Wales it has set aside up to £60,000 to pay an independent organisation to do the reassessments.

It anticipates the contract will be awarded by the end of June and re-assessments will begin in July.

£2.4m per year has also been budgeted, “for planning purposes”, to cover the potential costs of any increased packages.

157 people out of 1,174 assessed by their councils by the end of last year had had their support reduced.

There have been big regional variations, with cuts most common in Wrexham, Newport and Ceredigion.

Julie Morgan

The WILG was introduced in Wales to replace the UK-wide Independent Living Fund (ILF), which was closed down by the UK government in 2015.

In a letter to ex-WILG recipients, Deputy Minister for Social Services Julie Morgan said their “patience” would be appreciated.

“I do not want people to be waiting for an independent assessment,” she said.

“However, it is important to organise these independent assessments properly, so that they meet the required standards.”

Plaid Cymru’s social justice spokeswoman Leanne Wood questioned whether the reassessments were necessary.

“Initially many of these people were given an award for life and going through a reassessment process is extremely stressful,” she said.

“Particularly if you have a condition that everybody knows is not going to improve, it’s only going to deteriorate.

“So putting people through those reassessments is potentially problematic but at the same time this does need to be resolved quickly.”

‘Irresponsible’

Nathan Davies, a Labour member and founder of the Save WILG campaign, said the wait was “inconvenient” but criticised the previous Welsh Labour Government, led by Carwyn Jones, which made the initial decision to transfer the responsibility to councils.

“The fact that they [the current Welsh Government] are having to do this work now is because the previous neo-liberal regime did not listen to our campaign team and disregarded the evidence that we presented.

“The fact that we are having to endure an uncomfortable few months is totally down to them and a number of irresponsible local authorities.”

You can see more on this story on the BBC Wales Live programme at 22:30 BST on Wednesday BBC One Wales, and then on BBC iPlayer

Open Letter from Daughter of WILG Recipient #SaveWILG

I received the following email from Carmarthenshire-based Tracey Howells, the daughter of a WILG recipient. The following should provide hope and support for anyone wanting to oppose decisions made by local authorities. 

Those of you who have been following this blog closely, will not be surprised to read about yet more incompetence from local authorities. The good news for Tracey is that the Welsh Government have listened and responded to the #SaveWILG campaign by pausing the transition and introducing a new policy to protect WILG recipients. Full details can be read here.

This blog will be added to the WILG Voices page to demonstrate the dangers of relying on local authorities for responsible social care provision while underlining the dangers of neo-Liberalism.

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RE: ILF /WILG Myra Howells Social Services assessment with a reduction of 65% to her support package.

I feel that I must share the complications and distress my mother is experiencing with Carmarthenshire Council Social Services’ initiative to move her away from the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG). This transition remains unsuccessful and particularly unsettling to date, and I hope that by raising your awareness, it can help change the way this is being rolled out to alleviate the inevitable stress and anxiety it’s causing to all undergoing such assessments.

My mother is registered partially sighted and has been diagnosed with MS for almost 40 years. She has received ILF /WILG for many years and this has proved a major lifeline for her over this time. Indeed, she has taken great comfort from a protected ILF status, being one of a small number of recipients protected from losing the ILF until it finally closed.

The assessment with Carmarthenshire Council Social Services has now been completed, resulting in the proposal to drastically reduce my mother’s hours down from 34 hrs to 12 hrs a week. As such, this represents is a 65% reduction which we cannot accept. This reduction does not reflect the care and support she needs to enjoy her basic quality of life. We really feel that this is a disgraceful proposal, representing an arbitrary cut to meet budget targets, and relying on the assumption that any shortfall will be made up by goodwill and support from family and friends. As such, this approach goes against the fundamental principles of supporting and enabling our most vulnerable in society.

Background
My mother is severely disabled, retaining only the use of her left hand, head and neck. Nonetheless, she still has a very strong personality and knows what she wants. She is fiercely independent, managing to remain living at home and supported with her care partly from Social Services, and partly from employing personal assistants (PA).

During November 2011, my mother’s physical health deteriorated rapidly and she was in and out of Hospital for long periods of time. She was experiencing a lot of falls and incidents and to support her, I gave up a job I loved in S4C based in Cardiff to work closer to home. Unfortunately however, her condition continued to deteriorate and in July 2016, I moved to part-time hours, working 3 days a week and becoming one of my mother’s PA for a remaining 2 1/2 days. To date, this has worked very well and my mother has retained her spirit and independence, and has not been admitted to hospital since.

In November 2018,  a social worker for Carmarthenshire Council contacted me to request a review with my mother. At first, this wasn’t out of the ordinary because my mother did have occasional reviews with social services. The social worker called to see my mother in early December and quite early on in the meeting it became clear that the review was financial, clearly focusing on the ILF payments. This was extremely frustrating because a financial review was never mentioned at any time prior to the meeting, and as a consequence we were inadequately prepared for the detail of the questions. Further, the fundamental objective of the review became very clear during the discussion. When I confirmed to the social worker how much money my mother was getting from the ILF and how it was being spent, her immediate response was to tell me that my mother’s money would be cut and she wouldn’t get anywhere near what she was having now. This was even before she asked my mother any questions about her needs! Subsequent detailed questions focused on what I did for my mother, where again my answers were hampered by a lack of time to adequately prepare. At the end of the review, both my mother and I were left feeling deflated, anxious and annoyed at being unable to provide complete answers to the many questions. We really felt that social services had acted very unfairly by not disclosing the nature of the review to ensure we could not adequately prepare.

Within two weeks, we were contacted again by the social worker for a second review because she needed further information to complete the review. I explained that if she had been open and honest with me on the first phone call regarding the nature of the review, I could have prepared the care plan and we wouldn’t now have to put my mother through a second assessment. The second review was arranged and I prepared a full care plan of the weekly duties my mother’s PAs (including myself) performed. During the review, I kept being told by the social worker that the majority of the things I did for my mother was expected of me as a family member! Also, my mother has a cleaner once a week for 4 hrs who cleans the house and we were told that they wouldn’t support this, but rather they would get a firm in to clean the bathroom for hygiene purposes if needed. My further explanation that the cleaner’s been with my mother for 20 years, becoming close friends from the same village and providing a direct link to her community also failed to gather any consideration.

I have asked twice for a breakdown of how they’ve worked out the new hours, but simply been told that the assessment has determined that 1 PA for 12hrs a week is all that is required. When I asked about the appeals process, I was told there isn’t one and only a complaints procedure. I therefore asked for my mother to be reassessed by a different social worker and another visited on the 8th March. The recommendation from that meeting was that we have an independent assessment, and we are still awaiting this.

Currently, we are therefore in limbo awaiting the next WILG payment due on 19.04.2019, which of course at this stage, we are not even sure will proceed. This is naturally causing a lot of stress and anxiety for my mother and the family, and I’m sure we are not alone in going through such issues. Such practices impact the most vulnerable in our communities and need escalation to ensure we do not lose sight of the fundamental principles behind our social services. In this case, my mother is one of the luckier ones to rely on me to fight on her behalf, and I feel particularly sorry for any elderly and disabled who must be facing such arbitrary cuts all alone.
If you would like any other information please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Kind regards
Tracey Howells

Email: traceylh123@hotmail.com

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Letter to WILG recipients from Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services, Julie Morgan AM #SaveWILG

All WILG recipients – and their families – should be alerted to the following letter, which explains what happens next in the WILG transition process. This is particularly important for those of us who are unhappy with the level of support we’re receiving from local authorities. I am happy that we have made further progress, but now is not the time to celebrate. We have to make sure that local authorities implement the instructions that they have received from the Welsh Government.

An official response from the #SaveWILG Campaign to this letter will follow after the Easter break.

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To: All former recipients of the Welsh Independent Living Grant

Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) – Update

As we reach the end of the two years where people who used to receive payments from the WILG have been transferring to local council support, I would like to share an important update with you.

Since 2017 local councils have met nearly all people who used to receive WILG payments and agreed with them what care and support they will receive in future to help them live independently. Some people will now be having all their support arranged by their local council and others will be receiving direct payments so they can purchase this support themselves.

For the vast majority of people their new care and support is similar to what they had using their WILG payments. In some cases it has increased, to support their ability to live independently.

For a small number of people, the new package of care and support is smaller than what they had previously received through WILG. This can be for a range of good reasons, for example where people’s needs are still being met but just in a different way. We know from our enquiries that many people are content with the new support they are receiving, even when that package of care is smaller than before.

However, some people disagree with the outcome of their local council’s assessment. Everyone in Wales deserves support to live independently. As a result I have concluded that people who used to receive the WILG and now disagree with their council’s assessment of their care needs should have the option of having their needs looked at again by an independent person.

If you agree with the package of care and support from your local council, then this update does not affect you and you do not need to respond in any way.

However, if you disagree with the outcome of your new care arrangement, please contact your local council to ask for an independent assessment. Or if you have not started or completed your assessment yet, and would prefer for this to be done independently rather than by your local council, please also let your local council know about that. In either case, if you would like an independent assessment please let your council know by Friday 14 June 2019, at the latest. Your current care will remain unchanged until after the independent assessment has been completed.

The Welsh Government will be paying for these independent assessments and meeting the cost of any additional care and support a person might need as a result of them. Because of this, for people who used to receive WILG, while care arrangements may change in order to better meet people’s needs, this should not be in order to make any savings.

I do not want people to be waiting for an independent assessment. However, it is important to organise these independent assessments properly, so that they meet the required standards. We plan to have the arrangements for the independent assessments in place by the end of June so as to begin these from July onwards. Your patience, therefore, will be appreciated, while the details are worked out.

Julie Morgan AC/AM
Y Dirprwy Weinidog Iechyd a Gwasanaethau Cymdeithasol
Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services

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Statement on the Welsh Independent Living Grant transition

Following the Welsh Government’s announcement on February 12th that they were pausing the WILG transition and allowing all WILG recipients to recruit an independent social worker to work alongside clueless local authorities, there has been little obvious progress.

There is much going on behind the scenes as the Welsh Government work around the clock to establish a new policy.  I have received several encouraging and reassuring emails from the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services as well as the civil servants who are working flat out to assist disabled people with high support needs and their families.

Of course, it is going to take time to implement the new system.  This is something that many of us cannot afford, but now is not the time to be critical of the Welsh Government – who have listened and are making the appropriate changes.

WILG recipients should all be receiving a letter from Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services, Julie Morgan to explain the next steps in the reassessment process.  Let us hope that we receive this letter sooner rather than later as many of us are continuing to struggle.  We have won a huge battle, but there is little reason to celebrate at the moment and we have to remain patient while continuing to struggle for a few more weeks or months.

This is precious time we are wasting, but we cannot forget the huge strides we have made and have faith that the Welsh Government are doing what they can to help transform our lives under 21st Century Socialism.

We are so close to our goal and we must make sure such mistakes are never allowed to happen again…

Plaid Cymru Press Release – Set Out Clear Timetable to Support Disabled People #SaveWILG

Rhondda AM Leanne Wood has called upon the Labour Government to move fast to ensure that disabled people are not left out of pocket.

The Plaid Cymru Shadow Minister for Social Justice and Housing called upon Ministers to match words with deeds after they performed a U-turn on reinstating in all but name the Welsh Independent Living Fund last months after months of pressure.

Julie Morgan, the deputy minister for health and social services, wrote to local authorities to ask for a halt to the closure programme for the Welsh Independent Living Fund and its replacement with a system of council-funded support.

There will now be new assessments for former recipients with a view to new support packages allocated by their local council.

In a letter to Julie Morgan, Ms Wood called for a “clear timetable” to restore financial support for disabled people living at home.

Leanne wrote: “I am writing to you following last month’s announcement that an independent social work assessment will be offered to all former Independent Living Fund recipients who are unhappy with their new care and support package.

 “You also committed to providing additional funding for councils to fund independence assessments and any additional care hours that may result from these assessments.

 “I appreciate that we are only a month on from this welcome statement in the Welsh Parliament but the reality is that people are continuing to struggle without adequate support.

 “A clear timetable for carrying out these assessments and restoring the financial packages for disabled people is required as a matter of expediency to provide clarity and hope for people in need of extra support.

 “On behalf of disabled people and their families, can the Welsh Government provide that timetable as soon as possible please?”

ENDS