While Learning Disability Week may have ended for this year, now is the time to maintain the positive momentum and provide more support to families who care for people with learning disabilities.
This year’s Learning Disability Week provided thrills and entertainment as well as lots of information and advice for people with learning disabilities, their families, carers and the people who work with them. Everything from street dance workshops to the launch of a new anti-stigma campaign took place at events around the country last week to celebrate the strength and courage of people with a learning disability and their families.
But while much was done in support of the annual awareness week, which is organised by learning disability charity Mencap, we have to ensure that the momentum is maintained and services continue to improve and diversify, not just for people with learning disabilities but their families and carers as well.
For example, in cases where events were perhaps organised as a one-off but proved popular with people with learning disabilities and their families, it should be looked into whether they can be a more regular occurrence.
This year’s Learning Disability Week theme was celebrating superheroes within families who care for their loved one with a learning disability. These people are often overlooked when it comes to the debate about people with learning disabilities and the services that are – or, increasingly, are not – provided for them.
This is wrong and action is needed. Family carers are experts in the care of people with learning disabilities and can provide literal round-the-clock care, sometimes with little or no help from any outside service.
It should also be remembered that without family carers, the social care system would not work. They save the economy millions per year and this is not nearly recognised as much as it should be.
Families and carers of people with learning disabilities need to have more support, especially in the face of continuing local authority budget cuts impacting on service provision and changes to welfare benefits, which means that increasingly families are the primary source of support for people with learning disabilities.
This should go without saying, but it doesn’t. More investment is needed in things such as respite care, which is a vital service for many carers and can allow them to carry on caring without reaching a crisis. Other services that provide activities during the day for people with learning disabilities also need to be invested in. With the decline of traditional day services in favour of more personalised activities, it has to be ensured that there is the breadth and number of activities provided for people with learning disabilities, otherwise they can become stuck at home, which benefits no-one.
Carers are superheroes, without a question; but even superheroes can’t do it on their own all the time.