Professor Mark Drakeford AM,
at Disability Wales’ Annual Seminar,
You Say You Want a Revolution: Getting to the Heart of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act
at the Copthorne Hotel, Culverhouse Cross,
on 8 October 2015.
Good morning, Bore da. Thank you very much for the invitation and for the opportunity to be here this morning.
I knew it would be an unusual experience when I saw the programme also featured 2 slots by comedian Ted Shiress. My office in the Bay thinks it is very amusing indeed that I should be on a programme with a comedian and spent all week telling me what a brave decision it must have been to agree to speak here! I am reminded of a famous political story and as we have a doyen of Welsh reporting in the chair, I thought I would just start by sharing this with you.
So, this is a story from the early 1980s when Mrs. Thatcher was Prime Minister, and a by-election happened in one of the Blackpool constituencies. In those days by-elections were very big business, when the whole of the media and national press would descend on any constituency where a by-election was being held.
The Conservative Party chose as its candidate a local Blackpool bus driver. He was unveiled to the waiting media in a press conference where he was to speak and where the local, biggest Conservative Party supporter, Ken Dodd, was also part of the press conference.
So, a press conference is held, the Blackpool bus driver is unveiled and unfortunately his grasp of policy turned out not to be quite as detailed as his grasp of the Blackpool bus timetable, and he had a rather torrid time in front of the national press. Willy Whitelaw, the Deputy Prime Minister, had been sent up to be in charge of the campaign. When the questions to the bus driver had finished, and Ken Dodd was to speak next, apparently he turned to the press and said: “Ladies and gentlemen now over to a professional comedian.” Or a professional comedian, depending on your point of view.
That will be my only attempt to tell a joke you’ll be pleased to know! I am going to concentrate as you would expect in the rest of the time I have on the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act, put on the statute book in 2014 ready for implementation on 6 April next year. A landmark Act.
The Fourth Assembly is the first assembly to have law making powers in the full sense of that term. A referendum in March 2011 led to this Assembly being able to make laws on exactly the same basis as any law passed in the Parliament in Westminster. I actually don’t think that it is an accident that with devolved powers of that sort for the first time, the National Assembly has decided to make Social Services the subject of by far the biggest single piece of legislation which will have gone through the Assembly during this Assembly term. The Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act is quite certainly in terms of its scale and scope, the largest piece of legislation that the Assembly will have tackled and in some ways amongst the most profound in the impact that it will have on people’s lives.
We have been involved, as many of you in this room will know, since the Act made its way through the Assembly on to the statute book, in putting down the detail that is needed to underpin any major piece of legislation into the system as well. So, the Act itself is a major piece of legislation but the detail of it, how it will actually work in practice, comes through in regulations that flow from it, from statutory guidance, from the code of practice. And these are major undertakings in themselves. And we have consulted in 2 different tranches on the regulations that the Act requires to be in place in time for it to go live in April of next year.
The first tranche of regulations were consulted upon and made their way through the Assembly just before the summer break and the second tranche of the consultation is now closed and completed, and we will bring those regulations in front of the National Assembly in November. And if all goes according to plan, then they will complete their passage through the National Assembly this side of Christmas, which means that everything that we need to make this Act go live on 6 April next year will be in place.
Now, I know that that is still only 3 or 4 months before the Act happens, but I am confident that with our partners in local authorities, in health boards and in the third sector as well we will have certainty about the way that this act is intended to operate. The rule book which will be in place to make it all happen will be there, and there in sufficient time for everybody to do the difficult job of preparing themselves for its implementation.
Nobody should imagine that the world of social services will change on 6 April. That will be the start of the process of implementing this Act. And the Act is as much about cultural change as it is about some of the specific strands that lie within it. The specific strands, of course, are very important and very important to people in this room and the organisations that you all represent. Strands such as the strand on direct payments, on financial assessment, on advocacy, on social enterprises. All of those are things which the disability movement in Wales has been especially influential in the way that the regulations and the code of practice and the guidance flowing from the Act has been developed.
So, I am immensely grateful to all those individuals and organisations who have helped us during the period of consultation to make this Act as good as we can make it, including well over 200 contributions in the second tranche of consultation from organisations right across Wales.
And I sometimes think that members of the public would be surprised at the seriousness with which consultation is taken in government. Every one of those consultation responses has been gone through by officials working for the Welsh Government; every one of them has been reported to me in terms of the views that people have expressed in them; every one of them has had an influence and an impact in some way on the final codes and guidance that we will issue. You will know, some of you, that the codes we put out to consultation are not the codes that we will have confirmed by the National Assembly because those codes will genuinely have been improved and influenced by the consultation process.
And as you heard Rhian say, I was especially pleased to be able to respond positively to the concerns that bodies such as Disability Wales and others have expressed during the consultation exercise about the need to put a statutory framework into the supporting paraphernalia of the act, to make sure that the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People is firmly embedded in the codes of practice. You’ll see that that has now been agreed and is taking plac. And when you see the results of the tranche 2 consultation I hope you will be pleased to see as well that we have been able to respond positively to calls from Disability Wales and others to strengthen the citizens’ voice at the regional partnership boards which will be the engine rooms through which so much of this Act will be put into practice. Those regional partnership boards where we bring together senior people from our Health Service, senior people from Local Government, senior people from the third sector in Wales and now you will hear I hope when the tranche is published how we are going to strengthen the voice of the citizen at that top level decision-making layer in the way that this Act will now be put into practice. All of that will be complete by Christmas, then we move into that period of final preparation for the Act’s implementation.
I wanted though this morning to say something. Not just about the detail of the Act, and the way that it will be put into practice. But about what lies behind the Act, because in a way that is the most important thing of all. What lies behind the Act is a new way of thinking about the way that we provide services to people who rely on our social services here in Wales. A new model was put, I thought eloquently, to you in the start of the video you have seen this morning, because it genuinely is about taking some very important messages from the way in which the disability movement has developed a social model of the way that services need to be provided, and putting that social model at the heart of the way that our statutory and voluntary Social Services are provided. It really is an Act that has at its starting point the view of people who come through the door looking for assistance – that those people are not problems to be solved. They are people who have strengths and who have assets, who have managed successfully through long periods in their own lives and when they now need help, our job is to start from the strengths and the assets that they possess.
People are absolutely equal partners in the way that this Act is constructed. They are not the passive objects of the benign concern of the people who provide services. They are equal participants who bring the skills, the knowledge, the expertise, the life experience that they will have had, and put that to work in a joint enterprise with the people who provide services.
This is about shifting power isn’t it? That is what the disability movement has taught us about the way that they operate. At the heart it is about tackling the way the power is distributed and operated between citizens who use services and people who provide them. This Act is about democratising services and about equalising the way that power is distributed across the system.
So when someone comes through the door, the question we need to ask someone is, not what can we do for you today? Because that is an invitation to hand the issue over to the service and to put the service in charge. The question we need to ask is: What are we going to do today? Jointly? Together? So that we pool the expertise that lies with the service provider and the person who uses the service. The issue is not handed from one side of the table to the other, it is put in the middle of the table, where everybody has both joint ownership of it and therefore a joint responsibility to make a contribution to addressing that problem and to move that issue forward in people’s lives.
The word that was used in the video – a word I had on my scribbled notes – it is all about enabling people to maximise control over their lives. It is not about turning people into the dependent clients of services that then inevitably move in and take over control that people would otherwise exercise for themselves. The Act is all about trying to make sure that people are able to feel, as much as they possibly can, in charge of the things that matter to them most, and that new co-productive relationship is at the heart of the culture that this Act is aiming to bring about. So, “Nothing About Us Without Us”. I think that could have been the slogan written through the rock, that this Act is trying to bring about.
Let me respond very briefly to one or two of the issues that were raised in the video. There is no getting away from the fact that we live in the toughest times any of us in this room will ever have known in the way that money to do absolutely vital things in Wales is now available to us. The budget that the Welsh Government has in 2015 has now been reduced back to where it was in 2005. So ten years later, with all that we know about the way that the growth of services, the demand for services the things we would want to do, all that has grown and yet we are back to where we were ten years ago as far as money is concerned.
In addition to the cuts we already know about, we have a new set of them coming our way at the end of November in the Chancellor’s autumn statement. I can be confident of that. But even with the cuts we already know, we are only 40% through what has already been announced. So, far from being down at the bottom of the valley and ready to come up to the other side, we are yet to get to the floor. When the cuts bite directly, both in the lives of people who use services and in the lives of people who provide services as well.
Our public services in Wales are, by and large, not staffed by people who are on enormous salaries and wages. They are staffed by people who have modest incomes themselves. We have the highest proportion of single earner households anywhere in the United Kingdom and that single earner is very likely to be a woman. A woman therefore managing all the demands that that household has to manage, and managing on incomes that are fixed while costs are going up.
That sense of stress and strain in our system happens right across the board. So, any sense that there is a cavalry coming over the hill, with money on its back to allow us to do all the things we want to do. I am afraid that is not going be the way it happens.
What we have done in Wales is to protect our social services budgets alongside our health budgets. You have heard many criticisms, I am sure, of the way that the health service budget in Wales, it is wrongly said, has not been protected in the way it has been protected elsewhere in the United Kingdom. What we have done is to protect our budgets in the round. It is absolutely useless from the point of view of the individual citizen to have budgets artificially protected in the NHS only to find out that when they need services from social services, that those budgets have been slashed, burned and robbed from social services, artificially to make it look as though the health service has had a better deal. What we have done here in Wales is to recognise from the point of view of the user, what you have to have is a service that works across both boundaries and available for you, whichever part of the system you happen to need it. As a result, spending on health and social services in Wales remains 8% higher for every single person in the land than it would be if we were across our border.
We are doing that partly by making sure that the money that we are putting into implementing the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act is protected. We preserved £3 million in this financial year and if after the 25th November, and the Chancellor’s next set of cuts, we are able to continue to go on doing it into the next 3 financial years, then that is our ambition as a government here in Wales.
Let me end if I could just by paying tribute to the impact which Disability Wales and other disability organisations have had on the Act and the way we want to take it forward.
In the early days of devolution – and I have been at the Assembly one way or another, since the year 2000 – I remember just how amazed people were by the fact that in a devolved Wales, organisations were suddenly able to get close to people who made decisions and made the laws about them in a way that simply was never possible when Wales was run by the Wales Office with 3 Ministers who inevitably spent most of their time in London and a small part in Wales. John Redwood spent more nights on the Dordogne than he spent in Wales.
In the early days of devolution we got used to the sense of closeness between civic society and life in Wales. We take it more for granted now. But it is still something to be genuinely celebrated and it is something envied by people who live in other parts of the United Kingdom when the ability to get into the room to talk together – “Nothing About Us Without Us” – simply doesn’t exist in the way it does in Wales.
The impact of Disability Wales and others has been enormous from the beginning with the tool kit and the impact that continues to have, through the technical groups in the way Disability Wales was influencing the detail on which this Act will rely. In the fantastically exciting work that is going on to create citizen directed co-operatives that is happening in Wales, something that is not happening elsewhere, something I am keen to see the results of it. So we move direct payments on from being simply something where someone is offered a chance to paddle their own canoe through the rough waters of life, to a position where people using direct payments are able to co-operatively share their risks and pool the rewards to allow people working in the sector as well, to mitigate the risks. It is an enormously exciting project and Disability Wales is right at the heart of it. Over the next few months we will rely on Disability Wales as well to deliver training to local authorities across Wales on the UN Convention of the Rights of People with Disabilities so that the decisions that flow from this Act in future will be properly informed by the due regard duties that the Act now places on the shoulders of our local authorities.
So, Diolch yn Fawr, thank you for listening so attentively. Thank you for being here today, thank you for your commitment to this whole agenda on behalf of those many other people across Wales in whose lives this Act will be making such a difference. Without you, we wouldn’t be able to make the excellent progress we have achieved in Wales. I have seen the rest of the programme and it looks interesting and exciting. I hope you enjoy it all.
Thank you for giving me the chance to speak to you this morning.