As the Law Commission first began work on its review of adult social care in 2008 it seems reasonable to describe the new draft Care and Support Bill, based on the Law Commission’s recommendations, as ‘long awaited’. So has it been worth waiting for?
Throughout its work the Commission was adamant that it did not intend to reduce the rights of older and disabled people who need care and support. That the Law Commission has largely achieved its aim does in itself deserve praise, not to mention a sigh of relief that essential rights have not been swept away.
The Law Commission’s recommendations were never intended to be revolutionary. The aim of the exercise was primarily to consolidate existing legislation. This meant both bringing together successive acts of Parliament and proposing a new structure for regulations and guidance issued under the new act. Guidance will also be pulled together into a single code of practice, a huge improvement on the current mass of guidance, good practice guidelines, and guidelines produced by third parties.
There are, however, some dramatic and welcome new proposals in the draft bill;
- A general duty to promote the wellbeing of service users will become the underlying principle used as a basis for interpreting the rest of the legislation;
- People who do not meet eligibility criteria will still have rights to advice and information;
- Carers will, for the first time, have the same rights to services following assessment as care service users;
- There will be a new national framework for eligibility for care and support (the White Paper also promises a new minimum threshold for eligibility by 2015 although this is not in the draft Bill)
- There will be improved transition arrangements for service users who move from one local authority to another;
- Legislation to safeguard adults at risk of abuse.
Age UK has overall welcomed the draft Bill as a positive step forward for social care and we are pleased to see that Government has largely accepted the Law Commission’s recommendations. People who use social care services can be among the most powerless members of society. Use of social care services can often involve loss of rights (such as to security of tenure if someone sells their home and moves into a care home) and can mean dealing with often large and sometimes opaque bureaucracies, such as local authorities and the NHS. It is therefore vital that the legal protections people do have are clear, understandable and effective. However, we do have some reservations about the drafting of the new legislation which can be found in our detailed briefing.
The next stage will be a public consultation on the draft Bill later in this year. This will be accompanied by scrutiny of the proposals by a joint committee of both Houses of Parliament. We then hope that the government will put a Bill before Parliament in 2013.