‘Why social care for people with learning disabilities must be a 2015 election issue’

Good quality social care can be vital to people with learning disabilities but too many are being let down by the system, writes Mencap's CEO

By Jan Tregelles, chief executive of Mencap

Social care is likely to be one of the most significant issues discussed by all political parties during the 2015 general election campaign. Tackling the social care crisis is one of the key issues outlined in Mencap’s election manifesto, published this week.

We know that the vast majority of the British public have little confidence in the current social care system and that two-thirds of people believe greater government investment is needed. This is something echoed by people with a learning disability and their families, for who good quality social care can be vital.

Thousands of people with a learning disability are living in places like Winterbourne View, miles away from their loved ones and at risk of abuse. Meanwhile 8 in 10 family carers have reached or are close to reaching breaking point due to a lack of short breaks.

People with a learning disability and their families can no longer go on living in fear of being let down by the very system that is there to support them. Failing them will lead to families reaching crisis point and society facing huge avoidable costs as a consequence.

We are talking about people like Paul. His son James is 13 and has a severe learning disability. Due to his high care needs, Paul and his wife look after their son around the clock. Understandably, this has a huge physical and emotional impact on the family, leading to Paul having sudden attacks of Meniere’s disease brought on by stress. The day James started receiving short breaks is the day Paul said his family was given a lifeline. But James’s short breaks service has been threatened with closure twice over the last two years. In fact, it is being threatened with closure this very day.

Mencap wants to see enough funding in the care system to ensure that everyone who needs support, including families, gets it. This could be possible with the implementation of the Care Act 2014, which has the potential to overhaul and transform the social care system for the better. However, this will be seriously jeopardised if adequate funding is not in place.

We are also talking about Ann and her son Simon, who lived at Winterbourne View, and was subjected to horrendous abuse and neglect. Ann told us that she could not see how sending someone with Simon’s needs away to such a place could ever be justified. There has been a vast improvement to Simon’s wellbeing since he returned to his community, and his care package now costs half as much as it did when he was in Winterbourne View. Yet an estimated £500 million is being spent every year on sending people with a learning disability to units like Winterbourne View.

Mencap wants people with a learning disability, whose needs range from mild to severe, to get the right support in their local community, so they can live well in a safe environment close to their families. For every £1 spent on preventative and community services for people with moderate care needs, £1.30 will go back into to the NHS, local and central government. This comes from preventing people with a learning disability’s needs from escalating and relying on more costly public services. Plus, a reduced dependency on family members and carers can enable them to return to employment and have a more balanced life.

People with a learning disability – people like Lorainne  Bellamy – have told us that they want the next UK government to tackle the current social care crisis.

Lorraine said: “I live independently and have a job. I have a social worker who provides me with six hours of support a month from social services and feel that this has really helped me be independent. I like the freedom that having support gives me. Without it I would not be able to work or live independently. I would go back into my shell. I want other people to get the right support for them and their family and carers. I want politicians to hear our voice and appreciate the importance of social care to people with a learning disability.”

Through our Hear my voice campaign we will be working hard to make people’s voices heard on this issue by candidates standing for election to Parliament next year.

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