A new group that aims to campaign for the rights of people with learning disabilities and ensure their voices are heard has been launched.
Learning Disability England (LDE) is a membership organisation for people with learning disabilities, families, friends, providers, commissioners, academics, lawyers, professionals, national and regional learning disability organisations, self-advocacy, carer, development and training organisations.
The idea for LDE grew out of the establishment of People First England (PFE), an advocacy organisation supported by Housing and Support Alliance (H&SA) since 2014. While PFE had a brief to support more people with learning disabilities to be involved in the media, and in politics, more resources were needed to make this a reality. PFE and H&SA decided to join together and become one membership organisation. This was partly inspired by Every Australian Counts, a campaign to increase funding for disabled people in Australia to live independently by bringing together disabled people, families and organisations in one cohesive and strong voice.
LDE will campaign on the things that matter to its members, while ensuring that the voice of people with learning disabilities is at the forefront of any decisions about what LDE should be doing.
It will also campaign against what it sees as a big gap in policy since the government’s Valuing People Now programme was discontinued in 2011. In addition, the voice of people with learning disabilities is being threatened because there is less funding for self-advocacy. People with learning disabilities can speak for themselves and need to do this if they are to change how society sees them.
The organisation’s initial priorities include changing attitudes, campaigning for better employment and housing opportunities and benefits, and supporting people with learning disabilities to have better lives.
Its immediate work includes:
• Developing projects to support people with learning disabilities to speak directly to the media; and be more involved in the political process
• Bringing together experts in various fields to help make policy stronger and effective
• Working with a network of academics to strengthen the effect of research
• Establishing a ‘Fighting Fund’ to help people challenge prejudice and discrimination
• Providing members with advice and support.
LDE is also looking at developing a campaign, with the wider disability movement, along the lines of the ‘Every Australian Counts’ initiative.
Gary Bourlet, co-founder of Learning Disability England, said: “LDE is important because we want self-advocates to work closely with families, carers and organisations that work with people with learning disabilities to come together and work together. For far too long we have been working separately and our voices have not been strong enough on our own to make change.”
Sarah Burslem, chief executive of learning disability charity MacIntyre, said: “We are proud to be one of the first organisations to join LDE. It is so important that people with disabilities are properly represented and can ensure their voices are heard and we are delighted that LDE will lead on this; we will ensure our own work in this area links to the work of LDE.”
Chief executive of the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group, Rhidian Hughes, also welcomed LDE: “Learning Disability England will play a unique and pivotal role in putting the voices of people with learning disabilities at centre stage. We are delighted the organisation has arrived and look forward to working collaboratively with people with learning disabilities and their families to help shape progressive approaches to policy and practice.”