Valuing People: Next Steps are critical

Care services minister Ivan Lewis told Community Care’s A Life Like Any Other campaign conference that he was trying not to “throw the baby out with the bathwater” in his efforts to revamp Valuing People policy.

He was keen to emphasise that the aspirations set out in the white paper still stand and that it was important not to move away from the idea that people with learning disabilities had a right to full choice and control over their lives.

But despite his promise of a “significant announcement” about the funding of adult social care, the big question mark hanging over the whole day was whether the government would be able to come up with enough money to provide a service that genuinely promotes and protects choice and control.

As Community Care went to press the comprehensive spending review was about to be announced but the indications were that learning disability services are unlikely to emerge from the process flush with cash.

Of course, in some ways there is never going to be enough money to fully meet everyone’s needs. But learning disability tsar Rob Greig is on record as saying an extra £150m a year for 10 years would go a long way to providing a decent level of service for people with learning disabilities.

In the greater scheme of things that is not a huge amount of cash. But it could make all the difference. Even the most go-ahead local authority that has embraced the Valuing People message from the very start is going to struggle to give people with learning disabilities a fair deal if the council is strapped for cash and having to make savings. Learning disability services are always vulnerable to cost cutting because people with learning disability are not a strong lobby. To put it bluntly, they just don’t make enough fuss.

Maybe if more of them took a lead from groups speaking up for physical disability or mental health and chained themselves to things or threw red paint around, people might take a bit more notice of them. As it is, the hopes and aspirations – not to mention meeting the basic needs – of people with learning disabilities do not seem high on many people’s list of priorities.

We should have heard by now the government’s detailed plans for kick-starting the stalled Valuing People process. It seems that partnership boards are going to be expected to do more: faced with the choice of scrapping them or beefing them up, the government seem to have opted for giving them enhanced powers. But as for what else they have in store we will have to wait and see.

Publication of the new initiative has been delayed because the Department of Health has struggled to get other government departments on board. This is disappointing because Valuing People was meant to be a cross-governmental initiative right from the start and “joined up” government has been Labour’s mantra ever since it took power. But attitudes are hard to shift and those at the top trying to move things forward with Valuing People just have to keep plugging away.

Rob Greig hinted that compromises were having to be made in order to secure other government departments’ support. Let’s just hope that those compromises don’t weaken and undermine the final report.

Expectations for Valuing People Next Steps are running high and a lot is resting on the new initiative. If a minister as committed to learning disabilities as Ivan Lewis can’t turn rhetoric into reality and give people with learning disabilities more choice and control over their lives, then you start to wonder whether anyone can.

The Story So Far

Since our campaign launch in May, Community Care has been focusing on some of the barriers preventing people with learning disabilities from
taking their place in society as equal citizens. We have also been promoting good practice and have raised issues such as the need to beef up partnership boards. Here are the campaign milestones to date:

The launch
The A Life Like Any Other campaign was launched at Community Care LIVE in London in May. It called for people with learning disabilities to be offered the same life chances as everyone else. The focus for the campaign
is to raise awareness of the main issues preventing people with learning disabilities playing a fuller part in community life. These centre on access
to employment, housing and meaningful daily activities. Care services minister Ivan Lewis gave the campaign his backing as did the new learning
disability coalition of 10 charities which was launched at the same event.

Survey of service users
We were overwhelmed by the response to our questionnaire. More than
1,300 people with learning disabilities replied. They said they wanted more
friends, better support and improved access to transport. Of those who
didn’t have a place of their own, 65% said they would like one while two-thirds said they would like a paid job. Some 16% reported that they had been bullied in the street in the previous year

Influencing other professionals
Personnel professionals We carried out a joint survey with sister magazine
Personnel Today to find out the obstacles to people with learning
disabilities getting jobs. We asked personnel directors what stopped them
employing more people with learning disabilities and the survey found that the attitudes of line managers were crucial. An article in Personnel Today
helped spread the message to human resources professionals that people
with learning disabilities have a lot to offer employers.

NHS professionals
Community Care editor Mike Broad wrote articles for sistertitles Doctor and Hospital Doctor magazines on Mencap’s Death by Indifference
report highlighting NHS neglect of people with learning disabilities. Neither magazine had picked up on the report when it was first published.

What’s next Community Care has teamed up with the Learning Disability
Coalition for a petition demanding a halt to cuts to disability services. Have you signed it yet?

This article appeared in the 11 October issue under the headline “The next step has become critical”

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