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Devolution and the difficulty of divergence

27 January 2023

Older person

Wales faces profound challenges in translating its political values into reality in the field of adult social care, according to a new academic publication by Dr Alison Tarrant.

In the article, published by Critical Social Policy, the Cardiff University academic argues that successive Welsh Governments have sought to develop policy which rejects the principles of marketisation and individualisation that have characterised the public sector policy of UK governments for decades.

But the author finds that Welsh Governments have to date struggled to craft social care policies that incorporate their stated principles, finding it difficult to deviate from the neoliberal policy hegemony that currently exists in the UK and other national contexts.

By tracing the development of Welsh Government policymaking in strategy documents between 2007 and 2021, as well as the landmark Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, Dr Tarrant outlines that Welsh Government attitudes to direct payments and the conception of social care as a “market” have shifted over time. The possibility of implementing a new social care model on principles that are distinct from those of successive UK governments remains uncertain. While, for example, policy mechanisms on personal budgets have been rejected by Welsh administrations, the stated desire to develop innovative policy in encouraging non-profit care provision has been restricted by a “collision between principle and reality".

Looking towards future social care reform and potentially re-energised attempts to develop a model of care that reflects Welsh Government principles, Dr Tarrant calls for transparency around the conceptual challenges faced by the country, but also greater confidence in how to “cultivate a distinctive policy identity in decidedly unfavourable terrain”.

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