Under equality legislation, both public and private companies are required to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that disabled people can use their services.
On 6 April, the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee will hold a one day inquiry into human rights in Wales. It will specifically look at the impact of Brexit, the UK Bill of Rights and public perceptions of human rights.
The Assembly’s annual International Women’s Day debate is on 7 March 2017.
The World Economic Forum recently predicted that the global gender gap will not close for another 170 years at the current rate of progress. It ranked the UK 20th out of 144 countries for gender equality, based on a variety of indicators. Germany, Norway, France, Ireland and Rwanda all ranked higher than the UK.
10 February 2017
Article by Hannah Johnson, National Assembly for Wales Research Service
On 15 February, the Assembly will debate the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee’s report on its post-legislative scrutiny of the Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015.
The Act aims to:
- improve the public sector response to violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence;
- give public authorities (such as councils and health boards) a strategic focus on the issue, and
- ensure the consistent provision of preventative, protective and supportive services.
The main provisions of the legislation, alongside the Committee’s findings and the Welsh Government’s response, are highlighted below.
Pace of implementation
The Committee was concerned that the pace of implementation of the Act has, in some areas, been slow. It is more than 18 months since the Act was passed, and some key parts of the Act are yet to be delivered.
The Committee was particularly concerned that the commissioning of services was taking place without statutory guidance from the Welsh Government, which could lead to inconsistencies that would be at odds with the core aims of the Act. It also highlighted concerns that the rise in demand for services as a result of the Act was not being matched with sufficient and sustainable resources.
The Committee made recommendations including:
- The Welsh Government should set out anticipated delivery dates for the outstanding delivery plan, guidance and regulations, with the priority on commissioning guidance; and
- The Welsh Government should have urgent discussions with the UK Government about the future funding arrangements for independent domestic violence advisers (IDVAs).
The Welsh Government response states that:
- the multi-agency guidance “will be considered in light of the local government White Paper”;
- “the plan for rollout of Ask and Act will be developed from July 2017”;
- statutory commissioning guidance “will be consulted on by July 2017”;
- “guidance will be published in relation to local strategies in July 2017”, and
- national indicators will be published “not before” October 2017.
It also notes that discussions with the UK government have taken place, and the “national rollout of a regional funding approach for the Domestic Abuse Services Grant (DASG) from 01 April 2018. [..]2017-2018 will be a transitional year and [it will be moving] to a regional funding and commissioning model [in the future].”
National and local strategies
Sections 3-4 of the Act require the Welsh Government to prepare and publish a National Strategy to ’contribute to the aims of the Act’ no later than 6 months after the Welsh election (i.e. By 6 November 2016). Sections 5-8 of the Act require local authorities and local health boards to prepare and publish local strategies by May 2018.
The Committee was “disappointed” that while the Act was passed more than 18 months before the Welsh Government was required to publish the National Strategy, it did not begin consulting on a draft strategy until August, leaving only one month before the deadline for amendments and improvements to be made. Many witnesses told the Committee that they were not satisfied with the draft, and in particular that the views of survivors of abuse had not been taken into account.
As a result, the Cabinet Secretary made the decision to publish a high-level strategy in November 2016, which will be followed by a ‘delivery plan’ detailing how the strategy will be achieved. The Committee was concerned that the delivery plan would not be legally enforceable (unlike the National Strategy), and that no timescales for its publication had been provided.
In addition, the Committee heard that local strategies are beginning to be developed before the delivery plan is published, which could lead to inconsistencies in strategic approaches.
The Committee recommended that the Welsh Government should:
- clarify the legal status of the forthcoming delivery plan, which should preferably be issued as statutory guidance to ensure that it can be enforced;
- outline when the delivery plan will be published, and how it will be consulted upon, and
- ensure that the ten survivor recommendations contained in the report, Are you listening, am I being heard?, are fully considered during the development of the national survivor engagement framework.
The Welsh Government response states that “the legal status of the Delivery Framework will be considered with a Task & Finish Group, set up by the Advisory Group to develop the plan, with input from the Cross-Governmental officials Group. The Advisory Group will scrutinise the framework before being published” and “the timescale for the publication of the Framework will be determined by the Task & Finish group”.
Section 9 of the Act places a duty on local authorities to report on how they are addressing violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence within their education institutions. Section 10 gives Welsh Ministers and the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) the power to issue guidance to further and higher education institutions.
Education was a contentious issue during the passage of the Act. The initial White Paper on the legislation from 2012 proposed that the Bill would ensure that education on ‘healthy relationships’ was mandatorily delivered in all schools.
This proposal was not included in the draft Bill. According to the then Minister in charge of the Bill, healthy relationships education was instead being considered as part of the curriculum review led by Professor Graham Donaldson, which would include a review of the basic curriculum including Personal and Social Education (PSE).
The duty in section 9 was introduced as a Government amendment during the passage of the Act.
Both the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children and the Cabinet Secretary for Education told the Committee that the regulations under section 9 would be developed in early 2017. It is not clear when local authorities will be required to start reporting.
The Committee recommended that the Welsh Government should:
- commit to including teaching about healthy relationships in the new curriculum under the ‘Health and Well-being’ Area of Learning and Experience (AoLE);
- expedite the preparation of regulations relating to the publication of information by local authorities on how they are exercising their functions to promote the purpose of the Act. It should also commit to requiring local authorities to begin reporting by the start of the 2017/18 academic year;
- outline how healthy relationships and consent education will be addressed by further and higher education institutions.
The Welsh Government responded to these recommendations by saying “there may be opportunities to obtain information and data on what education settings within local authorities are currently undertaking with regards to Education provision stemming from the Act from external organisations currently enhancing the delivery of Healthy Relationships in schools”. It goes on to say:
Work on the development of the Health and Wellbeing AoLE will include consideration on approaches to the delivery of Healthy relationships and therefore there is potential that this can be considered as part of the overall work being undertaken.
The Welsh Government noted that in relation to the recommendation about further and higher education bodies, “this will be considered with Higher Education colleagues whilst drawing from projects already in place within Further & Higher Education.”
The National Adviser
Section 20 of the Act requires Welsh Ministers to appoint a National Adviser to provide advice, monitor implementation of the Act and undertake research.
The Committee found that the National Adviser’s role is part-time, meaning that her influence and capacity is limited. It also noted that the Adviser’s work plan was not aligned with the National Strategy, again potentially leading to inconsistencies.
The Committee recommended that the Welsh Government should:
- Review of the capacity of the National Adviser role, and consider allocating additional resources to it to support the development of local strategies and undertake research;
- Clarify what sanctions are available to Welsh Ministers if a public authority does not fulfil the requirements of the Act, and
- Make reference to the National Adviser, her responsibilities and work plan in the forthcoming delivery plan and any future strategies.
The Welsh Government has “discussed and considered these recommendations with the National Adviser”, and it has agreed to keep it under review. In terms of powers, the response states that the Welsh Ministers have the power to “direct” an authority to take appropriate action, but does not detail what sanctioning powers are available.
25 November 2016
Article by Stephen Boyce, National Assembly for Wales Research Service
Are new and stronger laws needed to protect older people? The Older People’s Commissioner for Wales thinks so. She is concerned about the vulnerability of older people to crime, discrimination and abuse. Her Impact and Reach Report 2015-16, which is being debated in the Senedd on Tuesday, highlights some of the difficulties facing older people in Wales.
Some of these concern abuse and neglect. The Commissioner says domestic abuse affects more than 40,000 older people every year. She has been running events to raise awareness of domestic abuse experienced by older people which she has described as a ‘hidden epidemic’.
In recent years investigations into care services have revealed poor quality care and neglect in some care homes. The Commissioner’s own 2014 review of residential care A Place to Call Home? found that too many older people living in care homes had an unacceptable quality of life. The Commissioner also found examples of good person centred care in Welsh care homes and she has been organising seminars to share good practice with care providers.
The Commissioner will be doing a follow up review next year to check progress on implementing the necessary improvements to residential care. She is calling for the law to be strengthened to offer better protection for older people who are victims of substandard care, abuse or neglect.
Recent Assembly legislation has sought to offer greater protection against abuse. The Social Services and Wellbeing (Wales) Act 2014, which came into force in April this year, provides a new framework for adult protection which should help to strengthen protection for vulnerable older people.
However, some threats require vigilance as well as legislation. The Commissioner has been involved with Age Cymru in setting up the Wales Against Scams Partnership (WASP) whose partners include the Police and Trading Standards. The partnership aims to strengthen protection from scams and to ‘make Wales a hostile place for the criminals who operate them’.
The Commissioner is also calling for changes to the law to deal with what she sees as inequality in the criminal justice system. She says that the number of convictions for crimes against older people is disproportionately lower than for the population as a whole. This may reflect flaws in the evidential test, a lack of willingness to prosecute for crimes against older people, or weaknesses in the law itself. She is currently working with the Law Commission to identify specific areas in which the current law is deficient and has outlined her concerns to the Justice Secretary and the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The Commissioner has also been undertaking work to raise awareness of and tackle age discrimination. Being treated unfairly due to age, she says, undermines self-esteem, self-confidence and quality of life and can mean older people are treated like second class citizens. She has sought to challenge stereotypes of older people through her ‘Say No To Ageism’ campaign, and to emphasise their contribution to communities in Wales which is worth over £1bn a year to the economy.
Much of the Commissioner’s work is concerned with campaigning, awareness raising and promoting good practice in public services, but she believes that this needs to be underpinned by a strong rights-based approach to promoting the interests of older people. She has proposed legislation for Wales that will;
protect and promote the rights of older people so they can live free of abuse, neglect, ageism, and discrimination, participate fully in their communities and thrive in older age.
The legislation would create specific duties for public bodies around the rights of older people. The proposal has received a generally favourable reaction, and the Welsh Government has indicated its support for the principles of a Bill. The Commissioner has established an expert advisory group to look at what might be included in the legislation and how it would work in practice.
The Commissioner’s Impact and Reach Report 2015-16, which is available on her website, also describes the range of other work her office has carried out, much of it concerned with improving public services for older people. The focus recently has been on older people who are vulnerable or at risk of exclusion, including those with dementia.
The Assembly’s Health, Social Care and Sport Committee will also be hearing from the Commissioner on Thursday, and next year will be looking at some of the issues affecting older people, including dementia, loneliness and isolation and the misuse of anti-psychotic medication.