Events this summer have posed some fundamental questions about learning disability services but, as yet, there have been few concrete answers. For instance, while we are now closer to the much-needed reform of the adult social care system after the publication of the Law Commission and Dilnot reports, we still won’t know for certain what shape it will take until late next year at the earliest.
The government has said it will produce a white paper on adult social care next Spring – although Whitehall timeframes are notoriously elastic – but even then a consultation will take months and getting it into law and implemented longer still.
While the recommendations made in the Law Commission and Dilnot reports have been generally welcomed by service users and learning disability organisations as a positive step forward, there is no guarantee that the government will take them up.
For instance, Dilnot’s recommendations on raising the threshold for paying for services could cost up to £2.2 billion and the government seems to be baulking at that, given its current focus on cutting costs. This is even more unfortunate since that Dilnot didn’t address one of the major problems in social care – the underfunding of services – something that could cost as much, if not a great deal more to rectify.
Elsewhere, questions raised by the Winterbourne View scandal also remain; the most fundamental of which is whether the residential care model needs to change, or even be abandoned in favour of community and supported living services.
The scandal also raised questions about the effectiveness of the inspection regime for residential care services. Indeed, the National Autistic Society recently handed a 10,000-signature petition to Parliament calling for a review of the current approach to inspection.
These are all difficult questions that need to be answered. Care and services for people with learning disabilities have undoubtedly improved in recent years, but it could still be better in many ways. Finding satisfactory answers to these questions would go a long way to making services – and, more importantly, people’s lives – better still.