As another year draws to a close, we start to look forward to what 2014 may bring. But, as with the past few years, for some people with learning disabilities, it seems that there will be little that will bring cheer in the New Year.
To be honest, I could almost re-run blogs I wrote in 2012 and 2011 at around the turn of the year. Since then, the main issues facing people with learning disabilities – such as cuts to their support services and the worry of losing benefits as a result of welfare reform – are still live problems, but are arguably causing even more anxiety now.
Indeed, increasing numbers of people with learning disabilities are struggling to make ends meet, with the rising cost of living outstripping increases in benefits – that’s if their benefits haven’t already been cut due to the reforms that are now being enacted. As a result, some people are getting into debt and this is having a serious impact on their life.
Meanwhile, local authority cuts to social care services continue, and will do so in 2014. Picking a council at random, Norfolk County Council announced in September that it had to save £140 million in the next four years, and social care stands to have £56 million cut. That could obviously affect the number of hours of care people with learning disabilities receive, or restrict choices on where they live. Whether it’s those or other service arrangements that will be affected is still being debated.
Norfolk’s situation is by no means unique – all councils are facing budget pressures and, given that social care accounts for a substantial chunk of their spending, it is no surprise that they are looking to make cuts there. However, that doesn’t make it any more palatable for those losing the services they rely on.
Meanwhile, reform of the learning disability institutional sector is still painfully slow and many people remain inappropriately housed in assessment and treatment units for long periods. The government set ambitious targets for reforming this area last year, but whether they will be achieved remains to be seen.
Given the difficulties above, it would be easy to become downcast. But they don’t give the full picture. Across the country there are many service providers – in the public and private sectors and in charities – delivering often innovative services that are making an appreciable difference to people’s lives.
Anyone who attended the Learning Disability Today conference and exhibition in November will have seen and heard about examples of good practice. Now we have to ensure that those examples are rolled out and become standard practice across the country.
These examples need to be highlighted and replicated as far as possible, because that would at least help to mitigate some of the effects of this seemingly unending period of austerity.