Campaigners slam plans for changes to care funding at special colleges

More people with learning difficulties and/or physical
disabilities could be denied access to education if a Learning and
Skills Council proposal to stop funding personal care in specialist
colleges is brought in, campaigners fear.

The proposal, in a draft LSC report  leaked to Community
last week, recommends passing responsibility for personal
care funding to primary care trusts and councils.

The proposal comes as part of the LSC’s review of provision for
students with learning difficulties and disabilities across the
post-16 sector, which is due to be published in final form next
month. There are also fears that the amount of money available to
fund placements could fall, but the LSC will not comment on this
until the report is in the public domain.

The news follows an interim report by the LSC on the review,
published in June, that raised concerns over “anecdotal evidence”
that its funds for education and training were being used to buy
care and health provision.

The LSC said this was occurring where local LSCs could not secure
suitable provision in their areas and had to secure residential

The interim report outlined the LSC’s intention to review
“assumptions” over “who bears responsibility for funding the ‘care
costs’ of residential provision”, and suggested developing
“strategic partnerships” with health and social services to explore
“joint funding options”.

The LSC currently funds 3,181 places in 72 specialist colleges in
England costing £126m a year.

But campaigners fear the proposed move to stop LSC funding for
personal care could leave people with learning difficulties and
disabilities in a “grey area” of funding. They also question local
authorities’ ability to take full responsibility.

While arrangements for joint funding of personal care in specialist
colleges between the LSC and local authorities are currently in
place in some areas on an “ad hoc” basis, there is evidence to
suggest this is “rarely a loving partnership”, according to Nick
Rowland-Crosby of learning difficulties consultancy Paradigm.

He says some social care authorities only take responsibility after
being “continually challenged” to fund personal care.

“This has led to fewer placements in specialist colleges being
agreed or the LSC taking the whole budget as social care refuse to

Other campaigners argue that social care authorities have
traditionally tried to “pass the buck” of people with complex needs
to the LSC.

One source says: “Social care woke up very quickly to the
possibility of relinquishing funding to the LSC and pushed for some
local LSCs to take up funding a 52-week curriculum.

“When they could get a 52-week fund of £100,000, which would
have a care component previously funded through social care or
often local education authority monies, getting the LSC to pick up
the tab made good financial sense.”

But Margaret Goldie, lead for learning difficulties at the
Association of Directors of Social Services, disagrees, saying that
councils and primary care trusts often make “very high”
contributions to LSC-funded placements.

She says there are joint funding arrangements where the LSC and
councils split the costs equally, and other cases where councils
pay about 30 per cent for individuals whose social care needs are
“quite low”.

Goldie denies that LSC funding is being used “inappropriately,”
adding: “Local authorities would argue that people with complex
disabilities have complex and interrelated needs, and that it is
often difficult to separate out ‘health and care needs’ from needs
directly related to learning.”

She says that if the LSC proposal was adopted, there would need to
be an agreement about what constitutes “personal care” to ensure
that people would be eligible for council support.

Andy Lusk, director of education and early years at disability
charity Scope, which runs six schools and a further education
college, says it has been subsidising student placements in its
college “for some time” because provision of LSC funds is
inadequate for meeting the needs of severely disabled

If councils are to take responsibility for funding “care costs”,
Lusk would like to see a transfer of LSC funds to local authorities
to enable education placements to continue. 

He says: “If young people with complex needs are not supported
through post-compulsory education, this is essentially disablist.
Funding needs to be made available to meet their care costs,
regardless of where this comes from.”

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