The balloon has deflated.

Balloons and party hats were the order of the day when Valuing
was launched. At the time it was heralded as the
all-singing, all-dancing white paper set to redress the lack of
choice and independence for people with learning

Three years later, some are still as enthusiastic about its
capabilities, but for others the party spirit has dampened
somewhat. Perhaps this is partly because some people had
unrealistic expectations, says Jean Collins, director of Values
into Action. “I know people are coming at this from the point of
view that things need to change quickly so that people with
learning difficulties can enjoy a better quality of life. But we
know from bitter experience that it takes time to bring changes
into action.”

Valuing People was the strongest white paper for this
client group to come from government since 1971. “It really did –
and does – put us on course for the kind of changes that need to
happen in people’s lives,” says Collins. “Having said that, how
quickly things can change partly depends on the starting point, and
partly on how much pressure is put on providers and authorities
generally to change.”

Collins thinks there was a reluctance to acknowledge how far away
people with learning difficulties were from enjoying their rights.
“If you look at where Valuing People was trying to take people and
where we were at that point, there was a huge gap for the majority
of people.”

But people are being held back by the attitudes of others. Collins
says: “It’s easy to write that a person with learning difficulties
has the same rights as other citizens, but it’s harder to put it
into practice and accept that it’s true. Valuing People is
a wonderful instrument for forcing people to have to accept that
that is true.”

But attitudes take a long time to change, particularly when we are
talking about organisations as well as individuals. It has taken
hundreds of years to develop negative attitudes and practices, says
Kathryn Stone, director of Voice UK, an organisation which works
with people with learning difficulties who have been abused.
“Organisations need to do more in terms of demonstrating their
commitment to people with learning difficulties. Regrettably many
don’t practise what they preach. I’ve just seen a letter from a
citizen advocacy organisation to a man with learning difficulties
and it’s incomprehensible.”

She recognises that change has not been as quick as people would
like, but says there are years of poor practice to overcome. “The
impetus is there and I don’t think the interest is waning. People
are as committed, if not more so, to change. We will get

But it is not happening quickly enough for some. Andrew Holman,
director of advice and support organisation Community Living, spoke
recently to community care minister Stephen Ladyman on this issue.
Holman says: “He said there was still a need to change attitudes.
If three years down the road we are still having to do the basics
Valuing People has not had the impact it was meant to

He is also frustrated with the lack of progress in setting up
advocacy services. Advocacy is mentioned 51 times in Valuing
– he has counted – “but mentioning it isn’t enough”, he
says. “Government guidance always mentions the need for it but then
nothing happens.”

Government pump-priming of funds was a “drop in the ocean”, says
Holman, adding that, with no statutory pressure on local
authorities to provide advocacy, as there is for children, it will
not happen.

On this last point Rob Greig, national director of the Valuing
support team, has some good news for Holman, as he
hopes that a statutory basis for advocacy will be considered during
the next stage of developing Valuing People.

However, Greig adds: “It isn’t realistic to expect substantial
national funding for advocacy. This is something that local
authorities, the NHS and other organisations need to view as a
serious and legitimate call upon service budgets.”

But Holman’s gripe with Valuing People‘s progress, or lack
of it, does not end there. The most notable heel-dragging, he says,
has been on the continual delays in the closure programme for
long-stay hospitals. He adds that changes to day services in some
areas have resulted in cuts instead of the opportunities envisaged
in Valuing People.

Another disappointing area is the lack of progress in support and
services for ethnic minorities with learning difficulties. Although
the Valuing People team has made this a funding priority,
it needs money, says Holman. “Work is being done in mental health
for people from ethnic minorities but sod all is done for people
with learning difficulties so it’s not surprising that little has

Greig recognises a need to do more about developing culturally
competent services and says his support team is probably spending
more money on this issue than any other element of the white paper.

Despite the work being done by Greig and his team, Holman is not
alone in his views. Shaun Webster, project worker at Change, an
organisation for people with learning difficulties, says those who
have spoken to his organisation say Valuing People is not
working fast enough.

“They want the government to put money into advocacy groups so that
they can be more independent,” says Webster. “They want more
respite care, fewer professionals coming into their homes, better
choice of housing and challenging jobs, not just the low-paid ones
that no one else wants. At the moment it’s all talk and no

Collins disputes this. For her the glass is half full. “If you’re a
half-empty glass person you’d say the delay to close long-stay
hospitals by the end of March 2006 is deplorable. But if you’re a
half-full person, you’d think in 1971 there were more than 60,000
people in these hospitals. We have come a long way.”

For Collins, the single thing that would have helped move on
Valuing People more quickly would have been a much bigger
support team. “They could have been out there, available to service
providers and breathing down people’s necks because that’s what is

Greig counters this: “While I appreciate the sentiment that the
support team is influential and helps change to be achieved, real
change happens because local people make it happen and our role is
to help make that more likely.”

Achieving progress for people with learning difficulties is like
“swimming across a river against the current with arms and legs
tied”, says Brian White, voluntary director of Action Unlimited, an
organisation run by people with learning difficulties. “You aren’t
really moving, you’re just keeping your head above water but a
great deal of splashing gives the impression of movement. We want
to get to the other side, get out of the water and be with everyone
else on dry land.”

There is little doubt in Greig’s mind, though, that progress is
being made. He says: “It is slower than either I or many other
people would have hoped but, given the many other priorities facing
people in public services, the fact that we have made the progress
we have is encouraging.

“But this should not hide the fact that for the majority of people
and their families, change so far has been limited.”

White is one of them. Initially, he thought Valuing People
was good news. Now he says: “By the time it filtered down to us it
was so diluted there was no real change, just cosmetic surgery.
Everything seems to be about saving money and not about who needs
help most.”

For him, the balloons have deflated and the party is over. “We
can’t help being different but we demand the same human rights as
you. We have tasted inclusion but we want a regular diet, not just
a tasty morsel at party time.”

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