Today the Care Act goes ‘live’. The Act has been described by the Care Minister Norman Lamb as “the most significant reform of care and support in more than 60 years”. Previously messy and sometimes outdated laws on adult social care have been brought into a single modern framework.
As the Act went through Parliament, Scope worked closely with politicians and policy makers alongside other organisations in the Care and Support Alliance. Scope’s vision is a society where disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else and are able to live independently. A key question disabled people are asking is, “will the Care Act enable me to be more independent and have more choice and control over my life?”
Many of the changes have significant potential to improve support for disabled people. Here are the five that I think will have the most impact:
1. Promoting well-being
Local authorities have a new duty to promote a person’s well-being and this is described right at the start of the Act. Although it does not explicitly mention the words ‘independent living’, it identifies a number of factors that are crucial to being independent, like having control over everyday life, living in suitable accommodation and being able to contribute to society. This is known as the ‘well-being’ principle’ and importantly it applies to all decisions made about a person’s care and support.
2. Focusing on outcomes instead of needs
For the first time, the Care Act sets a new national minimum threshold for getting care and support, which all local authorities have to follow, instead of setting their own criteria. Another big change is that when making decisions about who gets care, instead of looking at what a person can’t do (their ‘needs’) assessors have to look at the outcomes a person wants to achieve in life. These outcomes include being able to develop and maintain family and other relationships, use facilities in the community and get around your home safely – something that Scope campaigned for strongly. All these are fundamental to living more independently.
3. Personal budgets
A personal budget is the amount of money a local authority allocates to an individual to meet their eligible care requirements. Many disabled people say that, with the right support and information, having a personal budget makes a big difference to their independence, because they know how much money is available to spend on their care. In some regions and situations, it’s still difficult to get a personal budget. From the 1 April everyone will have a legal right to a personal budget and be able to ask to take this as a direct payment, so they are in charge of paying for and arranging their support.
4. Getting your views heard
Although it may not mean doing everything for yourself, an important part of being independent is that your views about support are listened to. For the first time, the Care Act introduces a right to have an advocate at key points such as during assessments, care planning and reviews. This means that if a person has substantial difficulty in communicating and doesn’t have an appropriate person to help, they can still get support to express their views and choices.
5. Making it easier to move
It’s important to be able to move, perhaps to get a new job or be closer to friends and family, but disabled people are understandably reluctant to do this if they are unsure about care arrangements in a new area. The Care Act strengthens requirements on local authorities to ensure that there is continuity of care when a person moves from one area to another.
The principles and intentions behind the Care Act are strong and it is a landmark piece of legislation with real potential to promote the independence and well-being of disabled people. However, as Scope and the Care and Support Alliance (CSA) have often said to the government, social care is chronically underfunded. It will be a great shame if lack of funding prevents these improvements from becoming a reality.