Learning difficulties services suffer most as cuts cause decommissioning

More than two-fifths of all services decommissioned since the
launch of Supporting People were for people with learning
difficulties, figures from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister
have revealed.

Of the 978 services decommissioned by councils since 2003, 414 were
targeted at people with learning difficulties, a higher figure than
for any other group.

Alison Giraud-Saunders, co-director of the Foundation for People
with Learning Disabilities, said closing down poor quality services
was a good thing.

But she said some services were being closed down because of a
“turf war” between Supporting People teams and social services,
with people with learning difficulties caught in the middle.

She said: “I know there are examples where what’s been behind
services being decommissioned is the Supporting People team have
gone in and said this shouldn’t be paid for out of our budget. What
should happen is that services don’t get decommissioned for an
individual without alternative proper support in place.”

ODPM figures released in March showed that the number of people
using Supporting People had dropped 10 per cent. Funding for the
programme was cut 7 per cent over three years starting last

Peter Kinsella, managing director of learning difficulties
consultancy Paradigm, said learning difficulties projects were an
easy target if councils adopted a “crude estimate” of the maximum
they were prepared to pay.

He said learning difficulties services cost more than other
services, because of the intense support that was required, and
that decommissioning would leave many services untenable.

“The big problem is if Supporting People funding is withdrawn
providers will look towards social services to replace it. If
someone needs support it has to come from somewhere.

“Supporting People reached out to people who weren’t the priority
of social services but who needed important levels of support to
give them the independence they needed,” he added.

Mental health programmes were the next most likely to be cut, with
136 being decommissioned, followed by 103 services for older people
being axed.

An ODPM spokesperson said decommissioning did not mean vulnerable
people would lose out.

Authorities could decommission services if they did not provide a
high standard of care or provide value for money but they had to
make sure vulnerable people were given alternative provision that
better met their support needs, she added.

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