Learning disability and social care organisations have cautiously welcomed the Law Commission's proposals to reform social care - but say in some cases it does not go far enough. Under the proposals, older people, disabled people, those with mental health problems and carers will, for the first time, be clear about their legal rights to care and support services. Local councils across England and Wales will have clear and concise rules to govern when they must provide services. The Law Commission's recommendations include:
- Putting the individual's wellbeing at the heart of decision-making, using new statutory principles
- Giving carers new legal rights to services
- Placing duties on councils and the NHS to work together
- Building a single, streamlined assessment and eligibility framework
- Protecting service users from abuse and neglect with a new legal framework
- Giving adult safeguarding boards a statutory footing.
Law commissioner Frances Patterson QC said: "Today signals a significant step in moving us closer to a clearer and more coherent framework for adult social care. Our recommendations will bring much needed clarity and accessibility, and have a major, beneficial impact on the lives of many of our most vulnerable citizens."
David Congdon, Mencap's head of campaigns and policy, welcomed the commission's proposal to introduce a single statute for social care law. "The current legal framework is fragmented and complex and this has led to a social care system that is difficult to access for many people who are in vital need of care and support," he said. "In order to cut spending many local authorities are restricting support by placing tight eligibility criteria on services.
Court cases in the media recently, such as Birmingham City Council's plans to limit social care to those in critical need only, are the result of a system struggling to cope with limited resources.
A national set of guidelines and eligibility criteria would put an end to the postcode lottery and give everyone an equal opportunity to access the support they need. "The new statute would streamline over 40 laws that date back over 60 years, making the system work better for both people who need social care support and also for the local authorities themselves."
But Andrew Tyson, lead on policy at personalisation-focused social enterprise In Control, while welcoming the recommendations, warned that some proposals do not go far enough. "In the most part the changes are radical and positive, such as creating a unified adult social care statute and recommendation that the overarching purpose is to ensure the person's wellbeing. However in some areas, sadly we feel that the plans do not go far enough. "We believe that to be effective, individuals should be supported to self-assess rather than there be just a requirement to 'consult'. And while the proposals for joined-up assessments are good, what's really needed is just a single assessment. "We support the recommendation for clarity on the legal framework surrounding personal budgets but rather than a power, this really should be a requirement.
The expansion of personal budgets into residential care is also an important development but only if careful consideration is given as to how this will work in practice. "We are however concerned that some of the proposals, if not amended may unintentionally hinder the progress of personalisation and even go against the ethos of self-directed support. We recommend that the government, when developing new legislation, should adapt the Commission's proposals in some key areas. "Defining a list of 'community care services' is not in any way helpful and will restrict a persons' ability to achieve outcomes in an efficient self-directed manner. If this is implemented we may well end up in a situation where people do not receive support if their outcomes fall outside of these categories.
This recommendation runs counter to a key element of 'Think Local, Act Personal', which the Department of Health has endorsed. "We also have serious doubts over plans to prescribe a support plan which would in effect mean local authorities would have ownership of these rather than the individuals. Research shows that support planning is much more effective when individuals 'own' these, allowing them to be truly in control of the process and to be creative with their support and outcomes. "Passing this responsibility to local authorities would, we feel, have a hugely detrimental effect as well as adding unnecessary and expensive bureaucracy. Our research with the users of personal budgets and their carers shows very clearly that they want a simple sign off process by the council and then to be able to take forward support planning in the way that suits their personal circumstances. "These proposals represent an important step forward and if implemented should make the law simpler and more straightforward. Overall the plans are positive but fall just short of the 'radical' overhaul that we would have liked to have seen."
To view the full Law Commission report click here: