The minister responsible for social services in Wales has hit out at David Cameron’s Big Society vision, arguing that it is short-sighted not to invest more in social care.
Speaking to Community Care following the launch of Wales’ 10-year plan for social services last week, Gwenda Thomas said: “It’s not about the Big Society in Wales, it’s about our society, the way we work. It’s not about the government pulling out – the Welsh Assembly Government is working in partnership with the social services family.
“The Big Society is not a concept we are adopting in Wales – it’s about us all working together in the firm belief that respecting the role of all partners is the best way forward.”
Thomas insisted that moves to create a de facto national social care service in Wales were not designed to facilitate cuts. “This is not a cost-cutting exercise. We have protected social services, where funding will rise by 3% year on year until 2013-14 – an extra £35m,” she said.
Shadow minister for health Nick Ramsey, a Conservative, has accused the Welsh Assembly Government of cutting £5m a year from children’s social services.
“I haven’t seen that,” said Thomas. “He may be talking about cuts to grant funding to outside bodies, but I stand by what I’ve said about funding for social services.”
When pushed on the cost of not investing in social care, Thomas said: “We can’t afford not to. The sky could be the limit if we don’t look at working in different ways.”
Thomas said the 10-year strategy for social services was about creating consistency in assessment and provision.
“We’re looking to have a uniform assessment process so everyone in Wales is treated the same. From 11 April we will see consistent charging. There will be an upper limit of £50 a week for social care packages provided by or commissioned by our local authorities.”
In addition, transport charges for day centres will be abolished, at a cost of around £1.7m a year.
“We will recompense local authorities for the income lost through these changes and have budgeted for £10.1m a year on an ongoing basis,” said Thomas.
Thomas said doing more on a regional and national basis would not lead to fewer social workers. “We’ve had the workforce review in Wales and that clearly states that we need to be defending recruitment and retention in social work and social care,” said Thomas.
However, she admitted the changes could lead to fewer directors of social services as councils make joint appointments.
The detailed costs of the changes and implications on staff won’t be known until councils submit their plans by end of the year though.
Thomas said the timescale for reform, July next year, was realistic. “We have got to move quickly and have received widespread support for our proposals,” she said.
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