The Learning Disability agenda needs new tactics, not just renewed energy.
Learning Disability Programme Lead, Madeline Cooper-Ueki, discusses our role in changing the direction of current learning disability practices in the UK.
Recent concerns raised about the Learning Disability agenda are founded in reality. The lack of national policy, a worrying increase in larger institutional style settings to support people, and the numbers still in assessment and treatment units around the country are unacceptable. These are all very real and current problems.
Lack of funding, associated with a national policy, has robbed people with learning disabilities and their families a national (or even local) space to have their say and influence change in policy and practice, a role once played by the two national forums alongside local approaches such as the annual Self-Assessment Framework. Without these, people are driven to social and national media to try and hold local or national government to account. Sadly, these stories are often shared too late.
Despite this gloomy landscape, there is still a strong movement for change that, together with a number of strong partnership organisations, we continue to grow, share and collaborate on. However, the time is right to reflect and review our own work in this area and push forward with renewed tactics as well as energy.
Over recent months we’ve listened to people with learning disabilities, families, carers and self-advocates to ensure our priorities are still targeting the most critical issues within the sector.
People told us that their most pressing issues are:
- Employment must equal real paid jobs with more on offer than a pay cheque at the end of the month. 6% of people with learning disabilities in employment remains a woefully low national figure. This is despite many guides and the well published benefits to businesses and people’s lives - there still needs to be a properly supported move towards a diverse workforce rather than segregated workforce models. We know from our work with employers (large and small), that guides are not enough, tactics must prioritise building aspirations and confidence in education providers, employers, families as well as people with learning disabilities. This needs to be embedded from the earliest of ages in our schools to raise aspirations, and then go on to ensure that people have an equal chance to use their skills and gifts for lasting and meaningful employment across the life-course.
- Health inequalities– from staying well, to getting the right health care when you need it- remains a high priority. Conversations highlighted a continued need to focus on health and healthcare. We will continue to work with people, families and organisations learning about the best ways to support people to access healthcare, and to ensure people have the information and knowledge about prevention and screening. We need to continually update and embed learning from our work with the learning disability public health observatory, such as the publication of reasonable adjustment guides.
- Community Inclusion is just as important as paid for services for support – At a recent conference, my co-speaker talked about the fact that, despite a learning disability diagnosis, the support she receives doesn’t come from social care departments because she isn’t eligible – instead it comes from local volunteers, her understanding employer and a local community self-advocacy group where members often support one another. These connections are a valuable addition to her life, beyond a paid service. Programmes such as our Community Led Support or Time to Connect project, demonstrate we often need to think beyond formal services to enable good lives. Many things exist in our communities already.
With an increased number of associates, partners and board members with learning disabilities, NDTi will continue to work towards changing perceptions based on these pressing issues. There is still a need for big changes in the national policy, but as Vincent Van Gogh once said, “Great things are done by a series of small things being brought together”. Together we have a good chance of turning the tide.