Care services minister Ivan Lewis has welcomed A Life Like Any Other, Community Care’s new campaign for a better deal for people with learning disabilities, which was launched this week.
“I think it’s brilliant. My top priority is to re-energise Valuing People and the campaign is an excellent complement to that. There is definitely a synergy between the campaign aims and our desire to reassert a leadership role in the drive to improve the lives of people with learning disabilities.”
Lewis said he was particularly keen to see more action by local authorities on transferring funds to clients to enable them to purchase their own care packages.
“Direct payments are not mainstream yet. But they will be a mainstream part of the social care system going forward. Yes, some authorities may need additional resources to get them off the ground. But other authorities have been doing it for some time already. So let’s get on with it.”
He urged social care staff not to see direct payments and individual budgets as a threat. An exclusive Community Care survey last month found that 40 per cent of practitioners thought they would be bad for social workers.
“They’re actually a fantastic opportunity for front-line staff, including social workers, to see a real change in their role to become more enabling, empowering, advocating and championing [for] individuals and service users.”
He said that was why most people who chose social care as a career went into it in the first place.
“These changes could signal a return to the sort of social work the profession is meant to be all about.”
He added that he did not want people to think he was naive or out of touch.
“I know this brave new world is not yet a reality in most places or for most people. But my job is to map out a vision and put in place the practical measures to make it a reality and that’s what I’m going to do.”
Lewis (pictured) said that when the Valuing People white paper first came out in 2001, local government was encouraged to get on with it, with little interference from the centre.
But the process had “stalled”, hence his announcement of a cross-governmental group which will produce a ‘Valuing People refreshed’ document later this year.
He paid tribute to National Director for Valuing People Rob Greig for his efforts so far. “But we need to raise our game and make it clear learning disabilities is a top priority. As minister I’m determined to provide the leadership to drive that message home.”
Lewis said he would be looking at what “levers” were in place in the system to bring about change for people with learning disabilities and their families.
He added he had not make up his mind about the future of partnership boards, which were originally meant to play a pivotal role in implementing Valuing People, service user voices at their heart.
However, though they have proved successful in some parts of the country, in the main they have not lived up to expectations.
“We need a system which recognises it needs to change and focus more on the aspirations of people with learning disabilities and other individuals.”
But he stressed this was not about “tinkering” with structures as families and individuals with learning disabilities “couldn’t care less” about the organisational model.
“This was brought home to me early on in my career when a client said to me ‘what I want is a life, not a service’. He meant he wanted to achieve the maximum quality of life he could – somewhere to live, a job and a decent social life. All the things Community Care is campaigning for. I think we’re all agreed that’s what it’s all about.”