White paper puts choice at heart of new learning difficulties strategy

Empowering people with learning difficulties and putting their
needs at the centre of policy are at the heart of the government’s
learning difficulty white paper published earlier this week.

Valuing People: A New Strategy for Learning Disability for
the 21st Century
, which is the first major strategy of its
kind for 30 years, has been hailed by learning difficulties
organisations as an “exciting opportunity”.

However, concerns remain about the level of funding available
and whether the paper will genuinely place the choices of people
with learning difficulties at the centre of service provision.

The white paper includes a £50 million development fund for
2002-3 to help with the double running costs of hospital closures
as long-stay hospitals are phased out by 2004.

The fund will comprise £20 million of new money, plus an
estimated £30 million of existing cash to be ring-fenced from
money which is often lost to learning difficulty services when
people die after being moved from long-stay hospitals into the

The white paper also stresses the importance of bringing the
lives of people with learning difficulties into the mainstream, of
working in partnership with other agencies both at a national and a
local level, of empowering the individuals involved, and of making
change actually happen by introducing the mechanisms on the ground
to change the way people think.

It places local authority chief executives in the driving seat
of the white paper’s reforms, with key responsibility for
developing partnerships between health, social services,
employment, the voluntary sector, the private sector, carers, and
people with learning difficulties.

The partnerships’ first task will be to revisit local joint
investment plans in the light of the new document.

A learning difficulty awards framework, produced by training
organisation TOPSS, will also be introduced in April this year with
the expectation that all new members of staff working with people
with learning difficulties will be signed up by April 2002.
Existing staff will need to meet certain training standards

The Social Services Inspectorate will conduct a national
inspection of learning difficulty services later this year.
Launching the white paper, health secretary Alan Milburn said: “A
fair, inclusive society must include those with learning
disabilities. We can now do this because of the extra investment we
are making in services in the NHS and social services.

“We want people with learning disabilities to have as much
choice and control as possible over their lives and the services
and support they receive.”

Welcoming the white paper, Mencap chief executive Fred Heddell
said he was delighted to see the focus on choice and opportunity
for individuals and the commitment to providing services that meet
people’s needs rather than making people fit services.

However, he criticised the amount of money being made available
to fund the changes as “insufficient” and warned of the complexity
of delivering the paper’s aims.

Jean Collins of Values into Action commented: “There is a lot
about advocacy in the paper which is brilliant. But are they really
going to give precedent to what the person with a learning
difficulty actually says? If the white paper is going to make a
difference to the lives of people with learning difficulties it has
to put their choices first.”

White paper recommendations

  • A £6 million implementation support fund over the next
    three years to fund advocacy developments and a national learning
    difficulty information centre and helpline.
  • Establishment of national objectives for people with learning
    difficulties, supported by new targets and performance
  • The extension of eligibility to direct payments.
  • The establishment of a national citizen advocacy network.
  • A national forum for people with learning difficulties.

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