Today’s Senedd Roundup: Fears rise of care home crisis

Picture by Eberhard Grossgasteiger from Pixabay

Owen Donovan, Senedd Home

Up to a fifth of Welsh care homes could close within five years

Shadow Social Care Minister, Janet Finch-Saunders AM (Con, Aberconwy), was alarmed that a survey of Welsh care homes found that 16% of them are expecting to close within five years, while the number of care home beds has also fallen by 247 since 2014-15.

Funding was a key issue, with the chair of Care Forum Wales saying 80% of care providers were finding it difficult to attract and retain staff. She went on to accuse the Welsh Government, local authorities and health boards of under-funding care homes.


Deputy Minister for Health & Social Services, Julie Morgan (Lab, Cardiff North), acknowledged that this was an area of concern for the government.

“….we are encouraging local authorities to consider taking more care homes in-house. We also are looking to see if we can develop co-operative models. So, we are looking at the care home system in a wider way. We’re also trying to encourage (sic) the status of those working in care homes. For example, we’ve had a big campaign to try to attract more workers into the care section, stressing the importance of qualifications, and how to develop.”
– Deputy Minister for Health & Social Services, Julie Morgan

Additional funding has also been provided to the care system to cover the cost of employing staff on the living wage.

Paying for social care

Dr Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West) said that to get the best value for money, spending in both health and social care has to be properly planned. Local authority budgets – used for social care – have been cut to fund increases to health spending. We would baulk at people being handed large bills to receive health care, yet act as though allowing people to keep £50,000 of their own money (when they need social care) instead of £30,000 is generous.

“Would you therefore not agree that the Welsh Government proposal to introduce a social care levy, without any guarantees that this would lead to the eradication of social care charges, is unfair, and a missed opportunity to put health and social care on an equal financial footing?”
– Dr Dai Lloyd AM

Health Minister, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth), told AMs that part of the health budget has been put back into social care. The social care system was still means-tested and the social care levy was one way to fund it in the future after ten years of austerity.

Welsh citizens have more generous levels of social care support from the government than England. The Welsh Government nevertheless has limited powers to use general taxation (or something bolder) to deal with the issue – raising the prospect that taxes could rise across the whole UK to pay for social care.

Supporting contaminated blood victims

Hefin David AM (Lab, Caerphilly) picked up BBC reports of a victim of the NHS contaminated blood scandal from Caerphilly who was receiving £10,000 a year less than victims in England. As this happened before devolution, there’s an acceptance the UK Government should be responsible for support and he asked what the Minister was doing to resolve the matter?

The Minister agreed there was an expectation that the UK Government would continue in their responsibilities towards victims despite devolution. The payment system in England was also announced without any discussions with Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The Minister thought it was sensible to avoid an “annual competition” between the governments and for the four nations to work on a single support system. A meeting between representatives of the four governments has been pencilled in for the summer recess.

Photo by pan xiaozhen on Unsplash

School exclusion “should be a last resort”

Here’s a summary of this afternoon’s Education Questions.

The Augar Review & Wales

In the last week, a major review of higher education in England (similar to Wales’ Diamond Review) was published. Shadow Education Minister, Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West), said that as 40% of Welsh students study in England, what were the Minister’s initial thoughts on the review’s impact on Welsh universities and colleges?

Education Minister, Kirsty Williams (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor), said her officials weren’t briefed prior to the Augar Review’s publication, but:

“I am aware of the contents of the report, and in my letter to The Times earlier this week, I was very clear that any proposal for reform in England will inform, but not dictate, the choices made by the Welsh Government. I am proud that Wales will continue to have the fairest, most progressive and the most sustainable student support system in the UK, even if the Augar recommendations are implemented fully in England….”
– Education Minister, Kirsty Williams

This didn’t answer Suzy’s question to her satisfaction, and she continued to press for specifics in terms of the potential impact on Wales. While there were policy differences, one thing that remains the same is student loan repayment terms. There was a particular problem with loans being written off (effectively becoming grants) that the Augar Review was trying to address.

The Minister said that even if Augar was implemented in full, Wales would offer a wider range of non-repayable grants to students than England.

New curriculum: Opportunities to teach Welsh history “will be missed”

Sian Gwenllian AM (Plaid, Arfon) recently met with campaigners arguing for greater teaching of Welsh history, but the new curriculum talks “in general terms and conceptual terms” about the Welsh experience.

“…..when one looks at the guidance under the heading ‘history’, there’s no mention of Wales or the Welsh experience or Welsh history. So, I’d like to know how you intend to amend the draft curriculum in order to reflect the aspiration that every pupil in Wales should know about the history of our own nation.”
– Sian Gwenllian AM

The Minister told AMs the curriculum is still in a draft form and is available for feedback. The principle of “cynefin” (“habitat”) runs throughout the curriculum and shouldn’t be confined to a single subject or area of learning.

However, Sian Gwenllian didn’t understand the rationale of making some elements mandatory – like digital skills or sex and relationship education – whilst exempting other important elements such as mental health. To that, the Minister said she’ll work to ensure the curriculum is properly balanced, while and an entire area of learning was dedicated to health and well-being.

Exclusion “should be a last resort”

Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales) raised a letter from a constituent – whose autistic son was excluded from school for several months – saying that a tribunal ruled that the school failed to make reasonable adjustments in that case. The school was forced to admit the exclusion was discriminatory and also to apologise on multiple grounds.

Helen Mary Jones AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) accepted that exclusion might be necessary – even conversion to homeschooling – but it had a negative impact on social development. Rhianon Passmore AM (Lab, Islwyn) praised a reduction in exclusions overall.

The Minister didn’t mince words and repeated several times that exclusion should always be a last resort. A proportion of £20million is being invested in additional learning needs training and skills following the 2018 Act. Nonetheless, there was more to be done to ensure schools and teachers are supported to understand the underlying causes of poor behaviour.

Sheep grazing. Picture Nation.Cymru

Direct payments to farmers to be replaced with goal-based funding from 2021

While it’s been on the table for a while, yesterday the Environment, Energy & Rural Affairs Minister, Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham), announced that farm subsidies in Wales will be replaced with target-based funding from 2021/after Brexit.

Further consultation in July

The Minister said that sustainability had to be at the heart of farm support, given the important role farming plays in protecting the environment.

From 2021, farmers will receive funding in exchange for carrying out certain tasks relating to the environment in addition to food production.

“We propose a sustainable farming scheme should provide annual payments to farmers in return for the public goods outcomes delivered on their farms. We propose payments are targeted to specific outcomes. This could provide a powerful tool for delivering against our environmental commitments, including reversing biodiversity decline, meeting our carbon budgets and achieving our clean air targets. It is difficult to see how we can meaningfully and efficiently address these commitments without nationwide action across the 80% of Welsh land managed by farmers.”
– Environment, Energy & Rural Affairs Minister, Lesley Griffiths

Further consultation with the farming industry will start in July 2019. However, the new scheme still depends on post-Brexit funding from the UK Government, with no certainty yet on what will happen beyond 2022.

Shadow Rural Affairs Minister, Andrew RT Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central) believes this is an opportunity to tailor agricultural support to our own needs, and he agreed that food and the environment needn’t be separate considerations – but it needs proper buy-in from the farming sector.

“I do think bringing the two schemes under one roof potentially is of benefit, but there’s a real danger that if it isn’t devised carefully and collaboratively with the sector that you will have scheme that’s trying to be all things to all people and fails to actually achieve any of the goals that you’ve set out.”
– Shadow Rural Affairs Minister, Andrew RT Davies AM

Many unknowns

Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales) found this a more constructive statement than previous ones, but there were still a number of unknowns. Would the new scheme only be open to active farmers and not tenants? What’s the potential impact of Brexit (particularly cheap food imports)? Also, while austerity has been used as a reason to halt the Newport bypass, surely the same thing applies to farm support? He went on to say that farmers need “stability, certainty and consistency”.

Jenny Rathbone AM (Lab, Cardiff Central) disagreed with Llyr’s call for consistency and believed everything had to be seen through the prism of the climate emergency. She hoped the new funding scheme would be open to smaller, more intensive, horticultural farms which could operate on smaller parcels of land and provide local sources of fruit and vegetables – something often difficult to come by in urban parts of Wales.

Joyce Watson AM (Lab, Mid & West Wales) called for better land management in general – particularly to prevent flooding and nitrate leaching – and struggled to see how the new scheme emphasised that:

“….whilst we need to look at going forward, I would ask that we examine what we currently do with our land, particularly within agriculture, because I notice that one of the key areas that you intend to support is improving productivity. I would like to understand exactly what that means, because if we’re talking about producing more red meat, more dairy, which means intensive farming, then that’s also going to take up more land.”
– Joyce Watson AM

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