What have been the biggest achievements and disappointments of Valuing People?
Valuing People has significantly influenced the agenda and level of public debate around services beyond the learning disability field. A lot that has been happening in the last five years in the wider social care front – for example, personalised individual budgets – is stuff I don’t think would have happened without Valuing People.
It was written as a programme that would last for three years and the fact we are taking policy to the next stage [with Valuing People Now], and there’s going to be continued investment to 2011, 10 years on, suggests there’s something right about it.
Also some people’s lives and services have changed. I’m continually told by people with learning disabilities and their families that things have got better – that’s the acid test.
It was never realistic that everyone’s lives would change in a few years, but the pace of change is slower than we wanted and that’s significant because it’s proved more difficult than we had hoped to engage people, particularly outside the learning disability sector, in making the necessary changes.
You can’t change centuries of societal attitudes in three years. We are a long way from everyone having their own person-centred plan. It would be good if more people had achieved that. But the point is that it’s there.
Who or what is to blame for the fact that some of VP’s vision is still some way off?
Any substantial change has got so many different facets to it. We are not going to achieve fundamental change until societal attitudes change and that won’t happen until people see adults with learning disabilities living fulfilled lives, so it’s a bit of a catch 22.
What would have helped is if the NHS had made people with learning disabilities a higher priority without having to wait for scandals like Cornwall.
And if the Department for Work and Pensions had agreed early on to give priority to adults with learning disabilities in paid employment, which they are now starting to give.
There’s an important point around being a political priority without pleading a special case which has been a substantial obstacle over the past few years.
What can be done about this?
There is a real issue of public accountability now which we’re beginning to make progress on. It’s now more difficult for public bodies to ignore people getting a poor deal from public services with the increasing power and influence of self-advocates and family carers.
For decades we have been weak when it comes to producing evidence about what people’s lives are like. We have to collect and present strong data to make the case for things to change, for example in housing. Public investment in housing is based on local authority plans but the majority don’t include needs of people with learning disabilities because local authorities haven’t collected any information about their area. So we need to get better at collecting and analysing information which will make it more difficult for people to ignore the clear need for change.
Why was Valuing People Now necessary?
For two reasons. First, any policy loses momentum so I was keen that there was a stage two. And second, it was clear that some issues had been missed out, such as hate crime. There were some bits that were a natural evolution, like the emphasis on proper home ownership and assured tenancies and some things that weren’t working as well as they might have needed tweaking, such as partnership boards.
Learning disabilities have hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons over the last couple of years with the scandals in Cornwall and Sutton & Merton and the murders of Steven Hoskin and Raymond Atherton. When you hear about these cases do you despair that enough change will ever happen?
I don’t despair but it does remind us how far we have to go. With the possible exception of Steven Hoskin all the other bad headlines are things that have been going on for years but haven’t been exposed. So it gives me confidence that people are realising that the appalling way they have been treated in the past can’t continue.
The recent Commission for Social Care Inspection report on Cornwall said it’s still failing to protect adults with learning disabilities. Should heads roll?
Some of the people who were responsible have either moved on or retired. I think it’s a shame that some people weren’t made more publicly accountable for their actions.
Will you name names?
My belief during this job has been that you make more progress if you work quietly to change people’s behaviour than you do if you publicly attack and pillory people, because on the whole that just pushes people into a more defensive position.
There’s obviously still a lot of work to be done with VP, and, with new ambitions in VPN, why have you decided to leave before more progress is made?
I’ve been here for six and a half years and for two years before that I was the external adviser to the DH as VP was being written, so I’ve lived and breathed it for over eight years. I feel it’s important for organisations to refresh leadership to bring in new ideas.
It seemed to me that with the next three years of delivery about to happen now is an appropriate time for a new person to come in and I think that will give a new impetus to the work. It feels the right thing to be doing. I will find other ways of helping but from a different place.
What will be your first task as chief executive of the National Development Team?
The National Development Team has been doing a lot of good work for the last few years, but very quietly. They have not been promoting the good things they do and I want to get out and about and make people aware of some of the things they have been doing. They’ve probably done more than anyone else in terms of constructive ways of making day service changes real.
If you could change one thing for people with learning disabilities what would it be?
The big thing is society’s attitude. But a specific thing would be the way in which the benefits system is an obstacle to people getting paid work.
What sort of person is needed to step into your shoes?
Someone who remembers that while working for government they are accountable to people with learning disabilities and families. They will need to really focus on the inclusion citizenship agenda and see that as the core way forward and can keep going despite all the obstacles that they continue to find in their way. Resilient, that’s a good word, they need to be resilient!
• The National Development Team is an independent, not-for-profit organisation that works to improve policies, services and opportunities for disadvantaged people. When the NDT began, in 1976, it was concerned only with people with learning disabilities, but its work now includes other groups of people – especially those with mental health needs.
• For full details of Valuing People and the stories behind its implementation go to www.communitycare.co.uk/vpsearch