Learning disability charities call to break down barriers and relax eligibility criteria

Coinciding with the launch of Community Care’s A Life Like Any Other campaign, 10 major organisations in the learning disability field have come together to form a coalition.

At the coalition’s launch at Community Care Live this week, the charities said that by joining forces they hope to draw attention to cuts in resources for support for people with learning disabilities, while at the same time strengthening the voice of a traditionally neglected group.

Community Care hopes to work closely with the coalition throughout our campaign to highlight the impact of tightening eligibility criteria, which can mean many people with learning disabilities not receiving the support they need to give them the same opportunities in life as other people.

Dame Jo Williams, chief executive, Mencap
“We are keen to promote employment opportunities for people with learning disabilities. This is the area where this country is so far behind.

“We need to start by raising the aspirations of young people while at school and introducing them to role models among people with learning disabilities who have managed to secure a job.

“We can make a business case for recruiting people with learning disabilities and we have examples of employers who can demonstrate how their staff with learning disabilities have changed the culture of their workplace. Their positive attitude can help raise the morale of the whole team and their colleagues say it’s great to work alongside them. Offering a job to a person with learning disabilities can be a real win win.”

James Churchill, chief executive, Association for Real Change
“If we only achieve one thing I hope it’s a Wanless-style review setting out the projected demand for learning disability services and how much will be needed to pay for it. The government’s policy is fundamentally sound with its push for rights, inclusion, choice and self-directed support. Who would argue with that? But the demographics have changed so we need more funding.

“The government has to address this or it will not be able to deliver its policy and vision. They will have marched the army of learning disability providers, carers and families and people with learning disabilities themselves up the hill and then just marched them down again. All the promises will remain unfulfilled.”

Andrew Lee, director, People First
“We are supporting the A Life Like Any Other campaign and the coalition because we agree that people should be able to have a home of their own if they want. Also it’s important that the support people need to live independently should be a right, not something that you are meant to be grateful for. And even though people may be making some choices, if the right kind of support is not in place then they are never going to achieve true independence.”

Barbara McIntosh, co-director, Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities
“Thanks to medical advances we are looking at a new cohort of kids coming through who have their needs met by funding from children’s services, but then when they reach 18 and become the responsibility of adult services the funding stops. Unless we pull our socks up this is going to become an increasing problem.

“There are savings to be made, for instance by ending costly out-of-area placements. But we have to build the infrastructure locally so the message is: we still need additional funding.”

Sue Sayer, chief executive, United Response
“People with learning disabilities are much more visible these days but not everyone has caught up with the brave new world and the public and employers need to engage with this more.

“We all need to do our bit to break down barriers and, as more people with learning disabilities move out into the community, more of us need to become good neighbours, make friends with them and offer a bit of support now and again.”

Keith Smith, chief executive, the British Institute of Learning Disabilities
“There is a widening gap between the policy on people with learning disabilities (which is good) and what is happening on the front-line, particularly in terms of people not getting the support they need because of cuts.

“We are selling people the dream, but then we are not delivering and that’s worse than if we had done nothing at all.

“We are also concerned that, at a really basic level, front-line staff are not always clear on how to offer good support.

“This is reinforced by events in Sutton and Merton and Cornwall which show that many areas have a long way to go, though there are pockets of good practice.”

Karen Flood, co-chair, the National Forum of People with Learning Disabilities
“One of the most urgent issues is supporting people to live in the community and get them involved. They mustn’t just be dumped there and left alone and isolated.

“We need to do more to see that they are able to access services like the local doctor. And we must help people to live where they choose to. So if their place needs some equipment or adaptation for them to stay there they should get that and not have to go through so much red tape.

“The government has to realise that giving people true independence is going to cost more money. They are cutting back things that are important – it feels like they give with one hand but take away with the other.”

Tony Best,chief executive, Sense
“Local authorities are moving towards meeting critical needs only. That isn’t fair on people with complex needs who may not need massive support, but what they do get they absolutely rely on.

“Unless our people have support to communicate and get around then they stand no chance of being members of the community.”

Lord Victor Adebowale, Chief Executive, Turning Point
“One of our key concerns is the number of people still in institutional settings, for example, those living in large NHS campuses, plus the rising numbers of people with learning disabilities sent out of area to live in independent hospitals.

There are real concerns about the quality of care they receive and some are, to all intents and purposes, being detained in locked units. They are isolated and they lose contact with their families.

A hospital is not a home, and people who are not ill should not be there. We would call on the government to speed up their proposed review of NHS support for people with a learning disability.”

Carol Boys, chief executive, the Down’s Syndrome Association
“We are hearing more and more from our members that the situation in adult social care is worsening by the day. I can’t remember a time when we had so many complaints about the lack of availability for those who are trying to access a service, and about cuts to existing services for people with Down’s syndrome.

“I am delighted that the DSA is able to work together with so many major learning disability organisations as part of a coalition to get a better deal for people with learning disabilities. Valuing People promised so much and we now have to make sure that those promises are fulfilled.”

How do you think we can do more to promote the independence of people with learning disabilities? Email comcare.letters@rbi.co.uk

This article appeared in the 17 May issue under the headline “Break down the barriers”

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