The Learning Disability Alliance (LDA) England has launched, with a plan to hold the government to account and raise awareness of the issues that impact on the lives of people with learning disabilities.
Some of the biggest issues for people with learning disabilities include the impact of benefit cuts, exclusion from shaping the policies and services directed at them, rising disability hate crime, and the issue of people with learning disabilities being stuck in assessment and treatment units.
The LDA England includes the four main umbrella organisations for people with learning disabilities:
• National Forum of People with Learning Disabilities – representing self-advocacy groups
• National Valuing Families Forum – representing family groups across England
• Association for Real Change – representing 200 service providers
• Housing & Support Alliance – representing 150 service and housing providers.
In all, more than 100 organisations and 1,200 individuals have joined the LDA England so far.
Initially, the LDA England will focus on a number of issues ahead of the general election in May 2015. It will quality check government policies and mark the government’s performance over the past 5 years, which will be based on members votes. It will also monitor the other political parties and their manifestos in advance of the general election. The LDA England will also look to get as many people with learning disabilities – as well as their families and people who support them – to vote in the general election.
Dr Simon Duffy, director of the Centre for Welfare Reform, has been the driving force in setting the LDA England up. He said: “It's not for the government to tell us what's important, it's for us to tell government what is.”
Duffy added that all 5 main parties had been contacted about the LDA England, but responses had only been received from Labour’s Liz Kendall and the Green Party, which has joined the organisation. There had been nothing from the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats or UKIP.
The launch event featured numerous short speeches made by people with learning disabilities, talking about the important things in their lives.
In a passionate speech, Simon Cramp, an associate at the Centre for Welfare Reform, called the government “a national disgrace” in its response to the Winterbourne View scandal. “In three years they have hardly done anything [to improve the situation] – they should be bloody ashamed,” he said. “They need to stop making excuses.”
Cramp added that the squeeze on welfare and disability benefits was also having a negative impact on many people’s lives. “You can’t afford hired help on Employment and Support Allowance or Disability Living Allowance. We have to stop this mentality of all people on disability benefits being scroungers – I didn’t choose to be like this so why should I be punished?”
Karen Flood, co-chair of the National Forum for People with Learning Disabilities, added: “We’re tired of the way people have treated us – it is time to stand together as one.”
Meanwhile, Gary Bourlet recounted how, when he was claiming Jobseekers Allowance, he was not supported to fill in the forms and, as a result, was facing sanctions. Fortunately, he started his current job at People First England before the sanctions kicked in.
One of the biggest responses on the day was to Suzie Fothergill, who, rather than make a speech, sung a song about her experiences and feelings on what should happen. It can be viewed here:
Another emotional speech came from Paula, a parent of a young man who was abused in an assessment and treatment unit. He is currently living out-of-area because of his perceived challenging behaviour – which his mother says is his protest about his living conditions – and sobs to come home every day.