In the UK there are approximately 210,000 people with severe learning disabilities (children, adults and older people), who are long term users of health and social services. There are around 1.2million people with mild/moderate learning disabilities who will be intermittent users of health and social care services. The majority of these people are largely ostracised by a UK society who show little understanding of learning disabilities. People with learning disabilities are amongst the highest group of unemployed.
Health Secretary Alan Milburn yesterday unveiled the first major new strategy aimed at radically improving the life chances of people with learning disabilities for 30 years.
Announcing the publication of the White Paper Valuing People: A new strategy for learning disability for the 21st Century Mr Milburn outlined a series of key initiatives designed to tackle the social exclusion and discrimination experienced by many people with learning disabilities and their families.
Mr Milburn said, “People learning disabilities have for too long had their needs ignored. For 30 years forgotten generations of people with learning disabilities have lost out. That must change.
“A revolution in care is needed to increase opportunities for thousands of people, their carers and families. Alongside better services there will be a new drive to improve education and employment opportunities. Our ambition as a government is to create a society where there genuinely are opportunities for all.
“A fair, inclusive society must include those with learning disabilities. We can now do this because of the extra investment we are making in services in the NHS and social services, and the employment opportunities we are creating in our growing economy.
“We want people with learning disabilities to have as much choice and control as possible over their lives and the services and support they receive. Helping people with learning disabilities to live as independently as possible within their local communities is key to improving people’s lives.”
Four key principles of civil rights, independence, choice and inclusion lie at the heart of the Government’s new proposals which have cross-government backing and takes a lifelong look at peoples needs. It will impact on the work of a large number of local agencies including: social services, health, education, housing, employment, the Benefits Agency and the independent and voluntary sectors.
The key initiatives backing these principles are
- a new Learning Disability Development Fund of up to £100m over the next two years
- an end to long stay hospitals by helping people move to more appropriate accommodation in the community
- specialist local services for people with severe challenging behaviour and developing integrated facilities for children with severe disabilities and complex needs
- a five year programme to modernise local council day services
- a new £6m Implementation Support Fund over the next three years to fund new advocacy developments and a national learning disability information centre and helpline in partnership with Mencap
- a £2m learning disability research initiative
- the first ever National Objectives for services for people with learning disabilities, supported by new targets and performance indicators
- more choice and control for people with learning disabilities by extending eligibility to direct payments, establishing a National Citizen Advocacy Network and increasing funding for self-advocacy organisations, in partnership with the voluntary sector
- a new national forum for people with learning disabilities
- the creation of a Learning Disability Task Force
- a Learning Disability Awards Framework to provide a new qualification route for care workers
Lord Rix, President of Mencap said, “Thirty years ago, when my daughter Shelley was a young woman, we had to fight for every bit of support. Now, with the Government’s Learning Disability White Paper, we have a real opportunity to build services fit for the 21st century that offer genuine choice and independence for people with a learning disability. Mencap looks forward to working with Government to bring about real change.”
Su Sayer OBE, Chief Executive of national charity United Response, added, “It is time for society to move on from treating people with learning difficulties as if they were unable to work, to participate in everyday activities and have full rights as citizens. They have been excluded too much, for too long.
“Employers are missing out on a very valuable workforce. What our employees have achieved with Fulham FC – and all the organisations we work with – is greater confidence, new relationships and their own money. We have encouraged many employers to see things differently, and the White Paper can push this further.”
The White Paper also outlines support for carers. Caring for a family member with a learning disability is a lifelong commitment. To help carers, £750,000 over the next three years is being made available to help develop a national learning disability information centre and helpline in partnership with Mencap.
People with learning disabilities also have greater health needs than the majority of the population. They are more likely to experience mental illness and are more prone to chronic health problems, epilepsy, and physical and sensory disabilities. The White Paper proposals aim to enable people with learning disabilities to have access to a health service designed around their individual needs, with fast and convenient care delivered to a consistently high standard and with additional support where necessary.