‘Councils must refocus learning disability money on job support’

The costs of the government’s employment strategy for people with learning disabilities can be met from existing funds, the government’s national director for learning disabilities has said.

Anne Williams told Community Care that authorities needed to “refocus” £3bn in annual social care spending to implement Valuing Employment Now, which aims to increase the number of people with learning disabilities in paid work in England. Currently, 10% of those known to services have paid work.

Williams’ comments came after the Learning Disability Coalition, which includes 15 sector bodies, warned the strategy would fail without extra resources.

Money not delivering outcomes

“There is a lot of money in the system but it isn’t delivering the outcomes people with learning disabilities want,” she said.

Williams said that while around £660m was spent on day services, they were “not effective” in getting people into jobs. “People are still going to day centres who shouldn’t be there”, she said. “Local authorities need to look at focusing day centre services on employment as part of the modernisation process.”

£1.5bn spent on residential care

Williams also raised concerns that authorities were spending £1.5bn on residential care, adding that people would be “much more likely” to access jobs if they were in supported housing.

Councils needed to commission education and training for 16-25-year-olds with learning disabilities effectively when they took over this responsibility from the Learning and Skills Council next year, Williams (pictured, right) said. “They will need to ensure that people do not end up in repeated courses with no jobs at the end.”

She also said service users would be encouraged to use their personal budgets on employment services such as job coaches.

No evidence of ‘benefits trap’

She said she had seen “no evidence” to show that the “benefits trap” – under which people lose benefits if they work more than 16 hours a week – limited people’s ability to enter paid work.

“All the evidence shows that if people can work 16 or more hours they will be better off,” she said. She blamed poor quality advice for “misconceptions” and said the government would “dispel myths” and produce accessible information about the system as part of the strategy.

Williams said the government would set targets in 2010 for employment rates after it had collected more information about the situation of people with learning disabilities.

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