The biggest national learning difficulties project for improving services for ethnic minority communities faces an uncertain future if long-term funding is not found.
The National Learning Disability and Ethnicity Network, set up by charity the Association for Real Change (ARC), could be forced to run a “diminished” service after its Department of Health grant ends this month, ARC has warned.
The network, which helps more than 1,000 members to share good practice on ethnic minority services, has been funded for the past three years under the DH’s section 64 grant scheme for voluntary organisations, but no long-term government funding has been secured.
James Churchill, chief executive of ARC, said he feared support for ethnic minority communities was “slipping down the agenda” despite the government’s pledge last year to make the issue a funding priority for learning difficulties services.
The priority list for the 2005-6 Learning Disability Development Fund (LDDF) – money given by the DH to health authorities – includes supporting people from ethnic minority communities.
A report last year by the Valuing People support team revealed that less than a quarter of people with learning difficulties from ethnic minority groups were known to services and only 22 per cent of the LDDF was used for race equality initiatives in 2004-5.
Earlier this month, the government announced that supporting people with learning difficulties from ethnic minority communities “should apply across all priorities” for LDDF spending for 2006-7 and 2007-8.
Bridget Fisher, head of black and ethnic minority services at ARC, said the DH needed to provide long-term funding to projects supporting ethnic minority communities.
She added: “We have done exactly what the DH wanted by encouraging organisations to prioritise ethnic minority services. Now we are in danger of losing the momentum of getting over 1,000 people involved in an issue that was not on the political agenda before.”
Rob Grieg, the national director for learning disabilities, said he was “hopeful” that financial help would be found for the network, insisting that supporting ethnic minority communities was an “increased priority” for the government.