It’s time to value everyone

People with learning difficulties who are also from ethnic
minorities face double discrimination and exclusion in all areas of
their lives. The Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 and the
Valuing People white paper were supposed to address these

Both these policies give a strong lead to local action for people
with learning difficulties and people from ethnic minorities. These
policies have enormous potential to reduce social exclusion,
educational underachievement, higher rates of unemployment and
health inequalities. However, people with learning difficulties who
are from ethnic minorities find themselves in a strange position.
As part of an ethnic minority their needs are being prioritised as
are their needs as people with learning difficulties. However,
within work on learning difficulties, their needs relating to
ethnicity are not being prioritised.

The double disadvantage they face does not result in double
priority. Instead, streams of work that try to address one area of
disadvantage appear to regularly exclude attention to the other. In
each area, therefore, the risk that people’s needs will not be met
is very high. When Valuing People was launched in 2001
this problem within learning difficulties services was clearly
stated: “The needs of people from minority ethnic groups are too
often overlooked.”1

The white paper pointed out the higher rates of learning
difficulties in some ethnic groups, along with problems of late
diagnosis and high levels of unmet need. It accepted that
isolation, poor access to services and benefits, and insensitivity
to cultural and religious needs were significant problems. The
experience of people from ethnic minorities showed that
disadvantage existed at several levels at the same time. Ethnicity,
disability, poverty and gender could all be causes of

The need to ensure that ethnicity was addressed in the work planned
as a result of Valuing People was re-stated many

Yet, in practice, ethnicity has not been routinely included in the
work Valuing People has generated. Feedback to the
government’s Learning Disability Taskforce indicates that few
partnership boards are producing local action plans that mention
work in this area. Guidance documents produced by government
departments do not routinely include information about how to meet
the needs of ethnic minority service users. While some deal with
ethnicity in detail, others provide little or no helpful
information or suggestions. Some specific guidance in the white
paper in relation to people from ethnic minorities has yet to be

The extra resources provided to help put Valuing People
into practice did not carry any condition that demographic profiles
must be taken into account. The opportunity to improve access to
services for those most poorly served – through, for example, the
Learning Disability Development Fund or funds for advocacy or
improving quality – was therefore lost.

No data have been collected about the number of service users from
ethnic minorities – the one measure that was included in the white
paper – and the Social Services Inspectorate has found that
monitoring ethnicity is not routine.2 There are no other
measures that would help to find out how much work is being done
with people from these groups. The task force has heard of good
examples of work at a local level. Nationally, however, there is a
need for more consistency and more active engagement with service
users and carers from these communities.

Highlighting unmet need and encouraging the idea of ethnicity as a
“cross-cutting theme” is clearly not enough to consistently
challenge the tradition of excluding or marginalising people from
ethnic minorities. This appears to be true of government
departments as much as of partnership boards and service providers.
Lack of leadership and of people with the skills and knowledge
within relevant government departments to take such work forward
means that, at best, the status quo is maintained and, at worst,
inequalities become even wider.

In its response to the task force annual report, the government
asked for ideas about how this problem could be solved.3
A task force sub-group had already been set up, comprising people
with learning difficulties, researchers and people working in
learning difficulties organisations and in government. The
sub-group began to consider how to ensure the needs of ethnic
minority communities were routinely included in all the new work on
learning difficulties.

It realised that Valuing People itself provides an
excellent model for developing services for people who have
traditionally been excluded. This model is working, albeit slowly,
for people with learning difficulties but it needs to be used twice
if the government is serious about being inclusive and tackling
“double discrimination”. Treating ethnicity as a cross-cutting
theme does not work without the targets, guidance, support and
measures in place that help to stimulate and sustain change. These
aspects of the white paper are the reason why the quality of life
is improving for people with learning difficulties and why more
consistency in service provision is being expected.

The government has begun the process of leadership by highlighting
the unmet needs of people in ethnic minority communities. It has
also agreed to make ethnicity a new priority for the Learning
Disability Development Fund in 2004. Specific local targets are now
needed such as increasing staff awareness and skills through
training. Monitoring service outcomes and quality will be necessary
to measure the effectiveness of this approach.

An important message in the sub-group’s report is that ethnicity is
not a separate priority that competes with other priorities. It is
a theme which needs to be considered within each priority area.
Work in this area is often seen as giving extra attention to ethnic
minority groups; whereas it is really all about making sure they
get the same resources and attention as other people with learning
difficulties. Until the government shows clearly that it holds the
same expectations for people from all ethnic groups, it is exposed
to the charge of institutional racism and to the possibility of a
legal challenge under the new legislation.

The sub-group’s ideas are an attempt to bring together two pieces
of government policy – Valuing People and the Race
Relations (Amendment) Act 2000. The task force has accepted these
ideas and will be asking the government to take them forward. The
government’s own annual report on learning difficulties will
indicate how seriously this message is being taken.

After so many years of neglect, services for people from ethnic
minorities will not catch up overnight. But Valuing People
has shown that, with commitment, support and leadership, the lives
of people with learning difficulties can change. The same
commitment, support and leadership are needed to include people
with learning difficulties from ethnic minorities, and their carers
if the present inequalities in service provision are to be narrowed
rather than widened.

The model for how to do this is already available in the white
paper but it needs to be applied twice where double discrimination
exists. Only then can we break the tradition of excluding people
from ethnic minorities and show that valuing people means valuing

Ghazala Mir is a senior research fellow at the
University of Leeds.


1 Department of Health,
Valuing People: A New Strategy for Learning Disability for the
21st Century
, The Stationery Office, 2001

2 Social Services
Inspectorate, Fulfilling Lives: Inspection of Social Care
Services for People with Learning Disabilities
, London,

3 Department of Health,
Making Change Happen: The Government’s Annual Report on
Learning Disability 2003
, The Stationery Office,

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