Caroline Norrie and Katie Graham provide an update on the progress of the Care Bill through Parliament with particular reference to its impact on adult safeguarding.
The Care Bill—described as “the biggest overhaul of social care rules for 65 years” (The Guardian, 9 October, 2013)—had its first reading in the House of Commons last week after completing its passage through the House of Lords. The scope of the Bill is extensive, attempting to amalgamate the dispersed and patchy adult social care legislation and including stipulations around social care assessment and funding changes. However, as researchers working on a project about adult safeguarding, we have been following the new adult safeguarding components of the Bill with much interest.
Katie attended the second reading of the Bill on 22 May. Lord Howe presented wellbeing as a central principle of the Bill whilst outlining plans for care funding arrangements (following, though not implementing, all Dilnot’s recommendations), a response to the Francis Report (not including the recommended regulation of social care and health care assistants), a strengthening of carers’ rights and a commitment to place adult safeguarding on a statutory footing.
The principles behind the Bill appeared to be welcomed by many of the speakers that day in the House, although with important caveats. Lord Howe alluded to one of the fundamental difficulties enacting the vision when saying “[a]s a nation we are living longer, which I am sure all noble Lords welcome. Managing the fiscal consequences of this will be a key challenge in the coming years”. Baroness Wheeler brought into stark reality the dire state of local authority funding, highlighting that councils “…by the end of this spending round, will have been stripped of £2.7 billion from their adult social care services, equivalent to 20% of their care budgets, as demand for services increases”.
More recently Caroline attended the House of Lords to listen to amendments tabled at the Bill’s 1st sitting of the report stage on 9 October. Discussions included an amendment which was successfully tabled by the Patron of Action on Adult Abuse, Baroness Greengross, to introduce a duty on councils to provide people with an independent advocate during assessment and support planning if they would otherwise have difficulty in understanding or communicating information, and have no one else to represent them.
Baroness Greengross also proposed amendments aimed at giving social workers powers to obtain court orders to gain access to enter private homes where they suspect a vulnerable adult is being abused but coerced into silence. These amendments were defeated with ministers arguing that existing legal powers were sufficient and social workers needed to improve their skills and knowledge in applying them to protect adults. (Power of entry is already available to social workers in Scotland.) A survey of The College of Social Work members last year showed strong support for a qualified power of access by a social worker to interview a vulnerable adult where this was being blocked by a third party. Lobbying on this issue continues.
Other elements of the Bill with specific implications for safeguarding practice include:
Enquiries by Local Authorities
The Care Bill proposes a new legal duty for local authorities to make enquiries when they have a reasonable cause to suspect that an adult in their area has a need of care and support, is at risk of abuse and neglect and is unable to protect him or herself. The local authority must make whatever enquiries it thinks necessary to enable it to decide whether any action should be taken in that adult’s case. The Care Bill also confirms, for the first time in law, that “abuse” includes financial abuse. That includes having money or property stolen; being defrauded; being put under pressure in relation to money or other property; and, having money or other property misused. Advocacy organisations including The College of Social Work have been active in lobbying to ensure that people with complex needs are assessed by ‘appropriately qualified staff’.
Safeguarding Adults Boards
Safeguarding Adults Boards are to become statutory and to be composed of multi-disciplinary members. Again, The College of Social Work, amongst others, has been vocal in lobbying to ensure that the local authority representative on safeguarding adult boards should be social work-qualified.
Safeguarding Adult Reviews
The Care Bill proposes local authority Safeguarding Adults Boards must carry out a formal case review if an adult at risk in their area dies in circumstances where abuse or neglect are known or suspected. It must also carry out a review if it suspects that an adult has experienced serious abuse or neglect. Any review must identify the lessons to be learnt from that adult’s case, and apply those lessons to future cases. The stated aim of a review will be to ensure that lessons are learned from such cases; not to allocate blame, but to improve future practice and partnership working, to minimise the possibility of it happening again. With regard to this issue, The College of Social Work has argued for Safeguarding Adult Review teams to “include a social worker with substantial experience of safeguarding work”. Our Unit continues its work on the current system of Serious Case Reviews for adults.
Last week saw the third reading of the Bill in the Lords; a time for tweaking with no major changes suggested. However, there was considerable discussion over an amendment that was tabled, but which after discussion was removed. This focused on safeguarding of vulnerable adults in ‘approved premises’. Lord Patel of Bradford argued that vulnerable people in probation services are not adequately catered for in the Bill and called for a review on “the discharge by probation trusts of their responsibilities for safeguarding adults residing in approved premises” a year after the enactment of the Bill. Lord Patel argued that planned privatisation of probation provision could make it difficult to ensure effective safeguarding provision for those people using probation services. This abandoned amendment raised once more the question of the clarity of roles and responsibilities of all agencies working with people who may be at risk of abuse.
When summing up her contribution to the second reading of the Bill Baroness Campbell said that much depends “on how local authorities choose to implement their responsibilities and powers under this legislation. There is a great danger that this Bill could be ignored as fine words but without teeth”. We await to see what changes, if any, will be made to the Care Bill as it now proceeds through the House of Commons.
Caroline Norrie and Dr Katie Graham are both researchers at the Social Care Workforce Research Unit, King’s College London. They are working on: Models of safeguarding: a study comparing specialist and non-specialist safeguarding teams for adults – currently in its fieldwork stage.