The sentencing this week of 11 former employees of the Winterbourne View hospital in Bristol once again brought the worst of learning disability care into the national consciousness.
It’s a sad fact of life that this type of care tends only to come to widespread attention when something goes seriously wrong, as it did in this case. Bad news sells, after all.
In a similar vein, there are an increasing number of stories of local authorities making significant cuts to their social care budgets, and subsequently ramping up the eligibility criteria for services. This is having a real impact on people with learning disabilities, especially those at the milder end of the spectrum who may only require a few hours of service a week – but hours that are crucial to them living an independent life of their choosing.
Similarly, planned reform and cuts to welfare and disability benefits are also causing a great deal of concern to people with learning disabilities.
In addition, recent police figures have shown that disability hate crime is on the increase – backed up by Scope polls which show that attitudes towards disabled people are deteriorating.
All of that looks bad, and it is. And, of course, it’s right that it’s highlighted and, where necessary, campaigned against. But the bad news also hides the true picture of learning disability services. And this is the crucial point.
Across the UK, there are many local authority service providers, charities, independent organisations and others delivering often innovative support to people with learning disabilities to help them live the life that they want to, on their own terms. And, many are managing to do this on reduced budgets.
While the Valuing People policy may have been wound down by the current Government in the past couple of years, its principles are being carried forward, and worked towards, by thousands of people in the sector, whose goal is to improve the lives of people with learning disabilities.
For example, in the past week, LDTonline carried a news story on a rural care community in Cornwall that came up with a novel way to support one of its residents who has autism – by building him a new home from a former chicken shed.
There are also moves to turn negatives into positives. Going back to Winterbourne View, there are genuine hopes now that, as a result of the scandal, reform will come, that will ensure assessment and treatment centres are just that – short-term solutions to enable treatment, where the next move is planned from day one – rather than dumping grounds for people who pose challenges to services.
It’s vital that among the negative headlines, it’s remembered that poor practice is heavily outweighed by the good things that are happening in the sector, and that there are thousands of people involved in a wide range of projects doing great things for, and with, people with learning disabilities. These achievements should be celebrated.