At Community Care’s Valuing People conference in London
last week, the achievements of the policy were self-evident.
Speakers and delegates stood up to praise the policy and talk of
the good it had done them, whether it was helping them get into
training or jobs, make friends, set up in their own homes, or
countless other things which much of the public takes for granted.
Rob Greig, who heads the Valuing People support team, said
person-centred planning, advocacy, choice and partnership had begun
to move off the drawing board into the real world.
But, as Greig also had to admit, for many people with learning
difficulties “not a lot has changed” after four years of Valuing
People. A survey of nearly 3,000 people with learning difficulties,
conducted two years into the policy, yielded some bleak results:
one in six had a job, though most wanted one; less than one-fifth
had attended ordinary classes in a mainstream school; nearly
one-third had no contact with friends; and a mere one in 15 were
living independent lives.
It is a disturbing picture of a class of people whose place in the
consciousness of the governing elite has moved up one notch, from
forgotten to barely remembered. Valuing People has a tireless
champion in Greig, but four years of bending ministerial ears,
kicking bureaucratic backsides and banging on locked doors has
brought us to a point where the policy’s vaunted principles of
inclusion, independence, choice and rights are still a pipe dream
for far too many.
Even the last of the long-stay hospitals, that throwback to the
poor law era, will remain open until next year. And then what?
Quite possibly private sector institutional care under another
name, or the tedium of a day centre, or loneliness or neglect or
some combination of these. Underneath it all lies official inertia
and the failure to win hearts and minds to the cause of people with
learning difficulties. Once again, Greig had it right: “Many
services are hanging on to power and not changing”.
Social exclusion will cease to disable the lives of people with
learning difficulties only when power changes hands. All too often
they are given tokens of power, a degree of influence over services
as they are rather than the stature to reinvent them as they should
be. Through direct payments, individualised budgets and advocacy,
they will eventually prise control from the service purse-holders.
But it will require more money and a determination to carry on the
struggle if it is to happen any time soon.