Diane LightfootIn this guest blog, Diane Lightfoot, co-chair of Learning Disability Voices and policy and communications director at United Response, explains why the learning disability sector desperately requires more funding in order for it to maintain the support it provides to people in the long-term.

It’s amazing what a difference a bit of human interaction does to build understanding. United Response has welcomed a number of members of Parliament into our services to show them what quality, personalised care really means to the people we support. Some have no idea how social care is funded and assume it comes from the NHS, or some other mystery pot of money. Some haven't really thought about it. Others, thankfully, are more clued up. However, for all of them, it seems to really bring home how important it is that we and other quality providers in the sector are able to continue to support some of the UK’s most vulnerable people and provide them with the quality of life - and life chances - that many others take for granted.

But we need to get that message through to the highest echelons of government, because the future of our sector is at stake. That’s why a new coalition of learning disability providers – ‘Learning Disability Voices’ – today launches a major campaign to secure a better funding deal for learning disability services. We are currently caught in the ‘pincer effect’ of rising wages (which we welcome, in terms of rewarding our amazing staff who do life-changing work every day, but which must be funded) and repeated cuts to local government funding. We have reduced fees for commissioners in real terms and made the required efficiencies over and over again to keep our services running, but there is nothing left to give.

The government’s response to this crisis to date has been inadequate. One of my colleagues in the sector said recently that his levels of frustration increase every time a politician refers to the Better Care Fund in relation to learning disability funding. Although welcome, none of these funds have reached any of the organisations represented by Learning Disability Voices.

The social care precept – an additional 2% added to council tax bills to fund social care – is also welcome, but evidence suggests that the increases are not being passed on to providers. The majority of councils are implementing the precept, but many are offering no uplift in fees for 2016/17, since even the increased precept does not cancel out the severe cuts in the grants local authorities have received from central government since 2010. The books simply do not balance.

To many people, ‘social care’ means ‘aged care’, and working age adults with complex needs get overlooked. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt recently stated that he hopes providers will recognise the ‘market opportunities’ offered by an ageing population. But there are virtually no self-funders in our services, so we are entirely reliant on our sole customer: the government. We are also acutely affected by the National Living Wage, with staffing accounting for around 70% of our fees.

People with learning disabilities and their families rely on the support of care services and charities – it is their lifeline. The right, high quality support makes the difference between someone fulfilling their potential, as independently as they can, at the heart of the community, or simply existing.

We know that we can only get so far with foot-stomping and hand-wringing alone, so the Care Crisis Manifesto that we are launching today offers practical solutions in the shape of policy changes that the government could implement tomorrow, to ensure a sustainable future for learning disability care.

We are asking the government to bring forward the £700 million from the Better Care Fund to this year, and amend the policy so that local authorities can use the money to support individuals with learning disabilities, give local authorities the freedom to raise the social care precept above 2% and ensure that supported housing remains exempt from the cap on housing benefit.

The impact of the government’s funding decisions is already being seen across the country. Many larger providers are being asked to step in to take over care packages withdrawn by smaller organisations because they can no longer afford to provide services for such low fees. Our fragmented sector disguises some of the real effects of the funding cuts it has endured.

But the bigger players in the sector cannot operate at a loss. This is not a sustainable solution in the long-term. Without action, the government’s Transforming Care programme is under threat, because we need to transition people into the community in a safe and effective manner.

Those MPs who visit our services are almost always eager to help us in any way they can. We have a clear ask for them now. Take our messages to the Chancellor and to the Prime Minister, and make sure that we are heard.