One of the consequences of financial cutbacks and organisational turbulence is that positive initiatives and intentions go off the boil.
Nowhere is this more true than with Valuing People. Here was a programme that emphasised people with learning disabilities should be enabled to speak for themselves, to have ambitions and to be recognised and valued as active citizens.
It required that services and communities should bring learning disabled people into the mainstream rather than neglected at the margins.
But then the NHS became self-absorbed in its financial mess and its reorganisations, councils focused on separating children’s and adults’ social care services heightening the transitions barrier for young disabled adults, and Connexions bounced out and then in again to local government.
Further education colleges were not sure if adults with a learning disability were a part of their student constituency, and the Supporting People programme was seen as too high a cost against the gains of learning disabled adults being tenants with rights rather than passive care recipients.
For voluntary and private providers, their contracts and costs were squeezed as the government’s public sector spending jamboree stretched to health and education (neither of which grasped the Valuing People and social inclusion agendas) but ignored social care.
Councils tightened eligibility criteria, defining many people with a learning disability as no longer entitled to assistance and for others help was further reduced and rationed.
Despite all this, people with a learning disability and their allies have continued to be champions in changing people’s understanding of what it means to be learning disabled as well as articulating the difficulties they experience.
What is needed now is, first, the money, especially to social care and for direct payments and individual budgets, to move from patronising and paternalistic care and confinement to enabling and empowering assistance second, the organisational stability and continuity to drive forward culture change and third the toleration of risk so that disabled people are not cocooned and restricted.
So, how about a new contract with Labour with a new prime minister. Give us the tools (the money) and give us the space (the time and stability) and, working alongside people with learning disabilities, together we’ll deliver. Go for it Gordon.
We’re watching you!
Ray Jones is ex-chair of the British Association of Social Workers and was social services director at Wiltshire from 1992-2006
A Life Like Any Other