Joint Committee On Human Rights Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


67.  Memorandum from Inspectorate of Social Services

  This letter responds to yours of 26 March. You asked for my views on aspects of SSI's work to inform the Joint Committee's enquiry.

  First some brief scene setting about the Social Services Inspectorate.

    —  SSI in England relates to 150 local councils with social services responsibilities. My inspectors have an ongoing business relationship with each council across the whole range of social care topics; we carry out periodic inspections in each council; regular in-year social services performance monitoring takes place and this culminates at the year end with an overall performance assessment of each council. The findings from our inspections and monitoring work are used by councils to prepare action plans for change. In our performance improvement role we help them with the change agenda directly using inspectors' knowledge and skills or by making links with other experts/centres of good practice.

    —  The rights of users of social services and their carers have been much to the fore in SSI's work from the early 1990s to date. Within the theme of fair access to services we pay particular attention to information provision, arrangements for assessing need, planning of services to meet need, rationing and arrangements for providing services. We look closely at how service users and their carers are able to contribute to assessments about their need and the resulting care plans. We look too at the operation of the councils' social services complaints procedures. Our concern for service users' rights and opportunities has led to inspections and monitoring work in service areas like compulsory mental health admissions, residential and community support services for older people, services for black children and their families and services for people with learning disabilities. Our inspection teams also involve lay people alongside professional staff.

  I turn now to the particular questions 1, 2 and 3 you have posed in your letter.

  As Chief Inspector, I issued a local authority circular—LAC(2000)17 in July 2000 alerting councils with social services responsibilities to the coming into force of the Human Rights Act 1998. I asked councils to take action:

    —  To ensure all staff (including those contracted by councils to provide social care services) are made aware of the duty which the Act places on public authorities.

    —  To ensure that councils' local policies, operational procedures and practices continue to be compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. I asked that any inconsistencies, which might be due to existing central policy or legislation, should be notified to inspectors who in turn would raise the matters within the Department of Health.

  In the background note to the circular I advised councils to actively develop existing good practice in a manner suited to the human rights culture, linking as appropriate to the existing equality and race relations agenda.

  Since the publication of that circular, our Autumn 2001 performance monitoring work looked particularly at action by councils on human rights. That exercise was conducted through a self-completed position statement. In the fair access section we asked councils to describe progress they had made in implementing the Human Rights Act. Five possible responses were available to councils. The table attached shows the distribution of responses from one—"not yet considered" through to five—"action plan implemented" according to councils grouped by SSI region and also by type of council. Our national monitoring report publication which appeared in December described the responses from the councils as follows:

    —  Most councils (84 per cent) reckon their progress on the Human Rights Act to fall into one of the three middle categories (discussed by social services management, reported to council, action plan agreed) in essentially equal proportions. 31 per cent of shire counties have progressed to implementing the action plan while just one council had not yet considered the matter.

    —  The main issues were the implications of the Act, the policy and practice in relation to child care and mental health services including assessment and care planning functions. Other issues included access to information, the quality strategies and the handling of complaints.

  The same position statement and the subsequent report dealt with other rights issues. We asked about councils' progress in developing an action plan to implement the Race Relations Act. The councils were also asked to indicate the stage reached in adopting the Commission for Racial Equality standards to develop, audit and review race equality standards. In other parts of the position statement councils were invited to report the action taken under the Disability Discrimination Act to improve the employment of people with disabilities. On Fair Access to Care for Older People we sought information on arrangements for scrutiny and review of age related policies and service eligibility criteria.

  Turning to inspection work our recently designed inspections have standards and criteria which make explicit reference to human rights. An important current example is found in the standards for the interagency inspection of Safeguards for Children. This inspection brings SSI and a number of other public service inspectorates together to look at arrangements made by local councils and other local agencies to safeguard children at risk. I attach extracts from Standard 1, 2, 4, 5 (with its specific human rights reference) and 8.[77] Led by SSI this work illustrates well how we are trying to address a significant set of human rights issues in the very complex policy and practice arena of safeguarding children.

  Regarding your latter questions 4-6.

  SSI does maintain a record of the performance of local councils with social services responsibilities. This system of performance assessment data and information (PADI) is used to store the continuing performance story on councils. A variety of standard and customised reports are produced according to requirements. Our annual review meeting with each council is supported by a performance profile document. From earlier monitoring activity or inspection, service user rights might be flagged for end of year overall review discussion in the annual review meeting. This could be followed up by references to further action in the letter we send to Directors of Social Services which records the annual review meeting key discussion and decision points.

  Either following the annual review meeting letter or the publication of an inspection report where rights issues are posing concerns, inspectors will offer advice often drawing on good practice models from our work in other councils. The kind of issues here include improving users' information about and access to services and their participation in key decisions about their lives and/or about the services they are receiving. Our practice is closer to the last option among those set out in question 6 although through our continuing business link role with councils, their requests for advice on rights issues may arise and be responded to at any time.

  SSI's role in social services inspection and performance evaluation gives us a clear locus in commenting on human rights issues as they arise in the way vulnerable people are assessed for and receive social services. We consciously seek out service user views during inspections, service users take part in our inspection teams and we are considering how to incorporate the service user contribution to our overall assessments of social services performance.

9 May 2002

Annex: responses to the question in the Autumn 2001 Position Statement—"what progress has your Council made in implementing the Human Rights Act?"

IMPLEMENTING THE HUMAN RIGHTS ACT
  
PROGRESS MADE
  
(1)
Not yet considered
%
(2)
Discussed by Social Services Management
%
(3)
Reported to Council
%
(4)
Action plan agreed
%
(5)
Action plan implemented
%
England
0.7
27.3
29.3
27.3
15.3
Northern & Yorkshire
0.0
27.3
22.7
22.7
27.3
Trent
0.0
28.6
35.7
7.1
28.6
North West
0.0
23.8
38.1
33.3
4.8
West Midlands
7.1
14.3
35.7
21.4
21.4
South East
0.0
60.0
15.0
15.0
10.0
Eastern
0.0
10.0
20.0
50.0
20.0
London
0.0
21.2
33.3
33.3
12.1
South West
0.0
25.0
31.3
37.5
6.3
Inner London
0.0
30.8
23.1
38.5
7.7
Outer London
0.0
15.0
40.0
30.0
15.0
Metropolitan District
2.8
13.9
41.7
30.6
11.1
Shire County
0.0
28.6
17.1
22.9
31.4
Unitary Authority
0.0
41.3
26.1
23.9
8.7





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