Why no new learning disability strategy for England and Wales?

Dan Parton cutLast week, the Scottish Government unveiled its new learning disability strategy, making some 50 recommendations to improve the lives of people with learning disabilities. So why is there nothing like this forthcoming from Westminster?

People with learning disabilities in England and Wales must be looking north with envy right now. The Scottish Government has underlined its commitment to improving the lives of people with learning disabilities in its new strategy, The Keys to Life, which contains a raft of practical and achievable aims. Yet, in England and Wales, there is nothing like this and no sign of anything in the pipeline either.

The Keys to Life places a focus on ensuring all health professionals can better meet the needs of people with learning disabilities and enable them to be part of their community. It also aims to address the fact that people with learning disabilities live 20 years less on average than the general population.

In addition, the strategy supports the introduction of befriending to prevent people with learning disabilities from being isolated.

These are all important recommendations and, if they are acted upon, could help to make real improvements to the lives of people with learning disabilities.

So, why isn’t there a learning disability strategy for England and Wales? Since the Government closed Valuing People Now in March 2011, it has said that learning disability issues will be at the heart of new legislation such as the Health & Social Care Bill, and that learning disability services will be driven at a local level, tying in with its commitment to localism. Presumably, then, it doesn’t feel there is a need for one.

But since the demise of Valuing People Now there is a feeling that people with learning disabilities are being neglected by Government. A feeling heightened with the cuts to social care provision and welfare benefits reform currently being enacted.

While people with disabilities – physical and learning – are an integral part of the Health & Social Care Bill and debates over the future of adult social care, the emphasis is usually on older people and the challenges they face to pay for care. There is little that pushes a learning disability-specific agenda, which acknowledges and fights for the particular issues that people face.

But with an overarching strategy, driven by Government, things tend to get done. Valuing People and Valuing People Now demonstrated that, as did The Same As You?, The Keys to Life’s predecessor.

Without such a strategy, the learning disability agenda in England and Wales has drifted, and if this continues some of the advances in learning disability services made through Valuing People and Valuing People Now risk being reversed, thanks to the cutbacks to social care services that are currently happening.

That cannot be allowed to happen. The Government needs to demonstrate its commitment to people with learning disabilities and follow the Scottish example and put in a new strategy to ensure that the needs of people with learning disabilities are given the focus they deserve.

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