A case of Wales following in the footsteps of England?
While attention is focused on the countdown to leaving the European Union, one should not lose sight of the impending closure of the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) which has been earmarked for the 31 March 2019. The impact of the closure is already being felt by people who have transitioned from the WILG to Local Authority funded care and support.
A strenuous and valiant campaign to # SaveWILG has been led by Nathan Davies.
The sustained #SaveWILG campaign has gathered momentum in the final weeks before the proposed closure and has been given greater impetus by a letter from the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services. In this letter Julie Morgan, sets out the outcome of the Deep Dive Review that was put into place by the previous Minister to evaluate the process and outcomes of the re-assessment of WILG recipients who have been re-assessed for Local Authority Services. The letter notes that 157 disabled people (of the 1,174 people who have been re-assessed – i.e. 13%) have suffered a reduction in their care and support provision.
The Minister has since met with representatives of the #SaveWILG Campaign Group who have presented her with a dossier of evidence to reconsider her decision.
The BBC Wales Live news item https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0c0x936/bbc-wales-live-23012019(at 8 minutes 40 seconds) has highlighted the impact on disabled people who have been reassessed and the impact on carers. The long term costs of leaving disabled people with high level care needs with insufficient support was highlighted by Tanni Grey Thompson who supports the continuation of central government funding.
Nathan Davies on behalf of the #SaveWILG has written an impassioned open letter to the First Minister for Wales https://nathanleedavies.wordpress.com/2019/01/28/open-letter-to-first-minister-mark-drakeford-savewilg/ in which he sets out the deep concerns of disabled people who have been moved to local authority care and support, reminding him that during the campaign for the office of First Minister, and in response to a question from the BBC he said,
“… if an independent evaluation shows the new system is not working as well as the old one then I would be prepared to reverse it because this is money intended for a very specific number of people for a very specific purpose”.
One must reluctantly come to the conclusion that the Welsh Government is following in the footsteps of England, albeit three years later. The closure decision has given scant consideration to the evidence from England on the effect of closure on disabled people and their carers and Wales has been prepared to continue along a trajectory that risks destabilising the established care and support of WILG recipients. A critical analysis of the intended closure of the WILG can be found by clicking here.
The Deep Dive Review, referred to by the current Minister for Health and Social Services, was intended to be an independent audit of the process, impact and outcomes of assessing WILG recipients for transition to local authority services. Embedded in the review was the possibility of reversing the decision. If not it was merely a cosmetic exercise.
The detail of the Deep Dive Review has not been made public as yet. There is neither information as to whether local authorities provided each previous recipient of WILG with independent advocacy nor if they offered a carers assessment to relevant carers.
It is an indictment of a review which was supposed to give reassurance to disabled people about the veracity of the evaluation of the process of transition to local authority services, that disabled people were not consulted about their experience of the process and their satisfaction with the outcomes. Local Authorities representatives were however consulted and provided reassurance to the Minister that no major implementation issues had come to light.
The letter from the Minister to the #SaveWILG campaign notes that some of the previous recipients of WILG are no longer eligible for social care and have been moved to NHS Continuing Health Care.
Unlike in England, recipients of NHS Continuing Health Care are prevented by statute from having a Direct Payment to arrange care and support. This is a significant impediment to independent living and yet this has not been attended to in legislation (although in England this barrier has been removed).
It now rests with the Minister of Health and Social Services to reverse the decision to close the Welsh Independent Living Grant and to offer a clear view on how Wales will meet the needs of disabled people with complex needs.
The case note R (CWR) v Flintshire County Council(2018) is a salutary reminder of the experience of a disabled person in need of care and support in Wales under the Social Services and Wellbeing (Wales) Act 2014 and illustrates the understandable fears of disabled people when being assessed for care and support.
The case is also a clear reminder that it is possible to effectively challenge unfair, unlawful or irrational decisions by local authorities.