First strategy for people with learning difficulties in 30 years unveiled

Main points from white paper on learning

– new development fund to modernise day services

– £2.3 million over three years to finance advocacy

– a national citizen advocacy network

– first set of national objectives for people with learning

– extension of eligibility to direct payments

– a forum for people with learning difficulties

– new learning difficulty awards framework run by TOPSS

Empowering people with learning difficulties and making efforts
to meet their needs part of mainstream services, are at the heart
of the government’s learning disability white paper for

Valuing People: A new strategy for learning disability for the
21st Century, which is the first major strategy of its kind for 30
years, has been hailed by learning difficulties organisations as an
“exciting opportunity”.

However, concerns remain about the level of funding available
and whether the paper will genuinely place the choices of people
with learning difficulties at the centre of service provision.

The white paper includes a development fund to modernise day
services, and help with the double running costs of hospital
closures as long-stay hospitals are phased out by 2004.

The fund will comprise £20 million of new money, plus an
estimated £30 million to £70 million of existing cash to
be ring-fenced from money, which is currently often lost to
learning disability services when people die after being moved from
long-stay hospitals into the community.

A £2.3 million implementation support fund for at least the
next three years was also announced to fund new advocacy
developments, and a national learning disability information centre
and helpline in partnership with learning difficulty charity

Other key initiatives include the first ever national objectives
for people with learning difficulties, supported by new targets and
performance indicators; the extension of eligibility to direct
payments; the establishment of a national citizen advocacy network;
and a new national forum for people with learning difficulties.

The white paper also stresses the importance of mainstreaming
the lives of people with learning difficulties, of working in
partnership with other agencies both at a national and a local
level, of empowering the individuals involved, and of making change
actually happen by introducing the mechanisms on the ground to
change the way people think.

It places local authority chief executives in the driving seat
of the white paper’s reforms, with key responsibility for
developing partnerships between health, social services,
employment, the private sector, carers, and people with learning
difficulties. The partnerships’ first task will be to revisit local
joint investment plans in the light of the new document.

A new learning disability awards framework, produced by training
organisation TOPSS, will also be introduced in April this year with
the expectation that all new members of staff working with people
with learning difficulties will be signed up by April 2002.
Existing staff will need to meet certain training standards

Launching the white paper, health secretary Alan Milburn said:
“A fair inclusive society must include those with learning
disabilities. We can now do this because of the extra investment we
are making in services in the NHS and social services, and the
employment opportunities we are creating in our growing

“We want people with learning disabilities to have as much
choice and control as possible over their lives and the services
and support they receive.”

The white paper is for England only and proposals for Wales are
expected shortly. New legislation covering people with learning
difficulties comes into force in Scotland next month.


Fred Heddell, Mencap chief executive, said he
was delighted to see the focus on choice and opportunity for
individuals, and the commitment to providing services that meet
people’s needs rather than making people fit services.

However he criticised the amount of money being made available
to fund the changes as “insufficient”, and warned of the complexity
of delivering the paper’s aims.

“To make sure there’s a proper network to develop advocacy
services, that cost is enormous,” he said, adding: “This is what we
have been fighting for a long time, but it is difficult. It’s not a
straightforward thing to deliver.”

Jean Collins, director of Values into Action,
commented: “There is a lot about advocacy in the paper which is
brilliant. But are they really going to give precedence to what the
person with learning difficulty actually says? If the white paper
is going to make a difference to the lives of people with learning
difficulties it has to put their choices first.”





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