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Wales considers social care levy to alleviate austerity’s ‘devastating impact’

The Welsh government is considering introducing a social care levy to boost funding for services and mitigate the “devastating impact” of the UK government’s austerity policies.

Huw Irranca-Davies, Wales’s minister for children, older people and social care, said welfare and tax reforms ushered in by Westminster had had a “terrible effect” in deprived areas. He said the Welsh administration was looking at what devolved powers it could use to help.

Speaking at the BASW annual conference in Cardiff, he said: “We don’t see any end in sight to the UK government’s ongoing austerity measures so we need to look at new ways of funding social care in the long-term. Raising additional public funds via a social care levy is one option for Wales that we will be exploring over coming months.”

Irranca-Davies, who was a minister under the Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown before moving into the Welsh Assembly, said Wales wanted to “focus relentlessly” on prevention and early help work. He claimed this was “in stark contrast” to England where he said hundreds of Sure Start centres had closed in recent years.

“I was there as an MP when we were opening these centres. I think it’s a tragedy, an absolute tragedy,” he told delegates.

He said ongoing investment in two programmes, Flying Start – which works with disadvantaged families with children under four - and Families First, showed the different tack taken in Wales.

“I’ve seen it with my own eyes, you will have seen it, this work makes a tangible real difference to families in improving their confidence, their resilience and their independence. We need to do more of it.”

He added: “We hope that this approach to investment will improve work across the piece, especially children’s life chances. Ultimately, it’s about narrowing the gaps in outcomes for those living in poverty. It’s raising aspiration, yes, but it’s also raising equality as well. It’s a fundamental point of principle.”

Irranca-Davies praised the “dedication and hard work of social workers”. He said the Welsh government was committed to working with the profession to raise the profile of a workforce that he said makes a “vital contribution” but was regularly hit by “negative headlines”. It was important to attract people into social work but also help existing practitioners develop their careers too, he added.

“In England, there is a narrow focus on new fast-track initial training schemes. In Wales, although we continue to support the initial training through strong relationships with universities and practice agencies, we’ve also invested in a Wales-wide continuing professional education and learning programme to support social workers to progress their careers.”

Closing his speech, Irranca-Davies paid tribute to social work’s long history of political activism, saying this tradition was encapsulated by the BASW-backed Boot out Austerity campaign. He pointed to the achievements of Clement Atlee, the former social worker who led the post-war Labour government and introduced the NHS and the welfare state “during the most austere and financially constraining times”.

“As social workers you understand clearly that social inequality underpins the social need that you try to alleviate. You have a great and proud tradition of standing with the least powerful people in society and agitating for social change.”