Time to make it happen

It is nearly two years since the Valuing People white paper held
out the promise of radical reform to people with learning
difficulties. Making Things Happen, published this week,
is the first annual report of the Learning Disability Task Force
and ironically it shows how difficult it is to do just that: make
things happen.

The challenge for the task force is two-fold: to achieve real
change in the way services are planned and delivered, and to
transform the way people think about people with learning
difficulties. The task force is finding just how dependent the
first of these is on the second.

There is certainly evidence of progress towards the Valuing
People goals of independence, choice and inclusion. Learning
disability partnership boards in some areas of the country have
done much to improve the planning of services in a way that
genuinely involves service users and goes beyond mere tokenism.
Person-centred planning is at last on the agenda, even if it is yet
to become a reality for many people with learning difficulties. In
some places there is a better balance between assisted living
schemes and residential care, while in others an effort has been
made to smooth the transition from children’s to
adults’ services.

However, as task force co-chairperson Chris Davies admits, it is
“still too soon for much to have changed in the lives of people
with learning disabilities”. Too often supported living is merely
residential care by another name; 21 long-stay learning difficulty
hospitals still remain in existence and may be unable to close by
next year’s deadline; and there are hardly any housing
alternatives for the increasing numbers living with aged

The case of the Monmouth shop assistant, paid in gift vouchers
by a major high street store, is symptomatic of a culture that
patronises, humours, and marginalises people with learning
difficulties rather than one that listens, responds and
strengthens. Until the hopes and aspirations of people with
learning difficulties are written in our hearts as well as our
policy documents, we won’t know what valuing people really

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