Barriers for people with learning difficulties highlighted

Depressing reading

Depressing reading. That is the only description fit for the first
national survey of adults with learning difficulties in England
published this week, writes Amy

The study, which was commissioned by the Department of Health,
involved interviews with nearly 2, 900 people with learning
difficulties aged from 16 to 91 between July 2003 and October 2004
and highlights the vast number of barriers experienced by the

The Valuing People White Paper was launched in 2001 and was
designed to improve outcomes for people with learning

No choice

But David Congdon, head of external affairs at learning
difficulties charity Mencap, said that the charity would have liked
it to have had more of an impact than indicated by the report.

He feels that one of the most striking findings from the
research is that almost two out of three people in supported
accommodation were found to have had no choice over where they
lived and who with.

“That’s an appalling statistic and very
disconcerting because much more has to be done. If person centred
planning means anything it has to mean giving people that degree of
choice over where they live and who they live with.”

The study also found that one in 20 adults with a learning
difficulty had no friends and did not see any of their family.
Congdon highlighted that this is connected to people not being
given the choice to live with their friends and added that there
was a need to ensure that the drive towards allowing people to live
more independently did not lead to further isolation.

“When you change things you have got to be really, really
sensitive to the needs of individuals and not do it based on the
needs of the services”, he said.

Jean Willson, an independent social worker, consultant and
family carer, said that isolation was a particular issue amongst
people with learning difficulties who got into trouble with local
services, such as those who caused disruption and misbehaved, as
they could be sent away to facilities miles away from home making
if difficult and costly for family and friends to visit.

Many people earn £20 a week or less

Nic Rowland-Crosby, a learning difficulties consultant with the
consultancy and development agency Paradigm, said that the report
painted a “fair reflection of how things are” and went
on to highlight the need for improvements in direct payment
services. The report found that only just over one in three people
had heard of the direct payments and that just under one in five
were receiving them. “It’s not my experience that adult
services are out there making a big deal of direct payments,”
he said.

The figures on employment contained in the report are bleak but
not surprising according to campaigners. Only 17 per cent of people
with learning difficulties who were of ‘working age’
had a paid job compared to 67 per cent of men and 53 per cent of
women of working age in the UK. The research also found that of the
people that were in paid work around half earned less than
£100 a week.
Congdon said that the figures show how much more needs to be done
to get more people with learning difficulties into employment.
“There’s a need to look in more detail at some of the
figures particularly on the amount of money that people are
earning,” he said.  He added that from its own work Mencap
knew that many people with learning difficulties only earn £20
a week or less as this is the maximum amount they can earn without
it affecting their benefits.

Su Sayer, chief executive of learning difficulties charity
United Response, said that we all meet many of our friends at work
and therefore the low level of employment also fuelled
people’s isolation. She added that a large part of United
Response’s work was going into companies and training staff
so they knew how to work with people with learning difficulties to
try to improve the situation.

Fairly accurate

The research also found that only about half the adults interviewed
who were parents looked after their children. Andrew Holman,
director of learning difficulties organisation Inspired Services,
said that this figure was “too high” and that it
pointed to the lack of support for people with learning
difficulties to live ordinary lives.

Rob Greig, director of the Valuing People Support Team, admitted
that image of people with learning difficulties lives created by
the report was a “fairly accurate” but said that
Valuing People had led to significant improvements for the

“There’s no doubt that learning disability is
featuring more in government policy and priorities than it was
three to four years ago,” he said.

Greig added that further improvements would be made and that he
thought that people with learning difficulties had probably had
even more negative experiences three or four years ago.

The Valuing People Implementation Fund has provided £2
million a year for a number of Valuing People initiatives since
2001 but the government has only committed itself to providing this
up to the end of March 2006 and Crosby said that there was a
“lack of clarity” about whether this will continue.

He argued that Valuing People had just started to get some
momentum going in services and that the funding needed to carry on
to ensure that this continued.

Greig said that although a continuation of the funding has not
been confirmed it hadn’t been ruled out either, although he
recognised that a decision on it perhaps hadn’t come as
quickly as some campaigners would like.

In its Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People report this
year the government pledged that “by 2025, disabled people in
Britain will be respected and included as equal members of
society”. This report is a clear indication that much still
needs to be done to even think about meeting that deadline.

Adults with Learning Difficulties in England 2003/04


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