The importance of social care to elderly people in Wales

Bill has the potential to ward off problems in the provision of social care

Amy Clifton outlines the importance of social care to elderly people in Wales

IT IS widely acknowledged that the existing arrangements for providing care in Wales are struggling under increasing pressure and a lack of resources.

Quality of services, eligibility criteria for care services and the amount that people pay for those services vary significantly across Wales.

In most local authorities today, people with low, moderate, and often substantial care needs do not receive any support from care authorities.

Unpaid carers – the majority of whom are aged over 50, currently provide 96% of care in communities across Wales.

Without this care, many older people would be left isolated with little or no support, and pressures on the state to provide care would increase significantly.

Cuts to care and support services force unpaid carers to work harder and they often sacrifice their own health and wellbeing as their caring commitments take over their lives.

Older carers in particular represent a group with specific needs that are not necessarily met by the present care system.

But support services for carers are at risk in the current economic climate.

We are aware that some local authorities are cutting the (already low) provision of respite care services, despite the fact that existing services are struggling to cope with demand.

Unpaid carers are effectively propping up our current care system and it is essential that they are given the support they need to enable them to continue caring and maintaining an acceptable quality of life.

Many people currently find the care system complicated and daunting, and the most common types of enquiry to Age Cymru’s information services are about social care.

The Welsh Government’s Social Services (Wales) Bill is currently in development.

It will seek to provide, for the first time, a coherent legislative framework for social services in Wales.

Age Cymru welcomes proposals in the Bill to improve the provision of information, advice and assistance, but we believe it must also include a commitment to increase the provision of advocacy services in order to achieve real improvements in Wales.

Independent advocates can provide support to empower people to have their voices heard, make informed choices and navigate through the complexities of the social care system.

Age Cymru’s research found that there was only one paid advocate per 17,000 older people in Wales.

Under current funding arrangements a significant number of people are required to self-fund their care.

Self-funders regularly get a raw deal as they often don’t get access to information and advice services.

Many residential homes also routinely increase fees for self-funders.

We believe it is extremely unfair that two people receiving exactly the same care in a residential home can be charged very different fees, with those in private arrangements effectively subsiding state provision.

The Social Services (Wales) Bill provides a historic opportunity for Wales to clearly establish people’s rights and entitlements to care services and to make essential improvements as to how those services are delivered.

We must ensure that it delivers real benefits for older people in Wales.

In order to achieve this we believe the Bill must include:

Duties to provide access to independent advocacy alongside information and advice services;

a specific duty to consider independent advocacy support for adults at risk, and a right to request an independent advocate for adults at risk;

better support for unpaid carers to enable them to maintain their caring role;

a national eligibility framework with the threshold set at a fair and reasonable level in order to achieve the aims of prevention and early intervention, and

equality for self-funders.

Today Age Cymru is releasing the latest edition of our discussion journal EnvisAGE, which spotlights care and the issues surrounding it in Wales.

In it, Alison Ward, chief executive of Torfaen County Borough Council, says: “The current system is broken; if we continue to sit stubbornly on the shore refusing to budge, the tsunami will overwhelm us.”

The Social Services (Wales) Bill, together with reform of the paying for care system, has the potential to head off the looming social care tsunami in Wales, but devil will be in the detail and the delivery.

To request a copy of EnvisAGE, please contact  02920 431 555 ,

Amy Clifton is policy adviser at Age Cymru

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