The ability of as many people with learning difficulties as
possible to live independently has long been a measure of success
in social care. But independence has often been more honoured in
the breach than the observance: institutional care is still a fact
of life for many people with learning difficulties, although
efforts are frequently made to disguise it.
The learning difficulties white paper Valuing People is
generally a sensible document which is attuned to the needs and
wishes of people with learning difficulties themselves, but its
impact has not matched its aspirations. New figures from the
Learning Disabilities Taskforce show that less than half of 1 per
cent of the annual £4bn spent on learning difficulties
services is directly related to the aims of Valuing People. All too
often the principles that underpin the white paper still bypass the
lives of service users: citizenship; equality; rights and
Money released by the closure of long-stay hospitals should have
been reinvested in community-based services. But as health minister
Stephen Ladyman pointed out last week, one kind of institutional
care is being replaced by another, with a growing number of people
with learning difficulties going into a new generation of
Nor is independence any better achieved when care homes are
deregistered merely to gain Supporting People funding and avoid the
rigours of national minimum standards. Independence does not simply
happen whenever people with learning difficulties are left to their
Each person will require an individually tailored programme of
support and, for a few, it will have to be admitted that
independence is too much to hope for. Yet some of the latter are to
be found in homes that have been deregistered with the declared
intention of enhancing the independence of residents.
If independence is to be a genuine objective for most people
with learning difficulties, it must be paid more than lip service.
The current cavalier approach cannot be allowed to continue.