Five parents whose children with a learning disability are, or have been, stuck in assessment and treatment units (ATUs), delivered their collective petitions to Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and lead of the opposition Ed Miliband, calling on whoever forms the next government to bring their children home.
The parents’ Change.org petitions have generated almost 300,000 signatures of support from the British public to date.
One of the parents delivering the petitions was mum Ann Early, whose son Simon faced abuse at Winterbourne View. Ann called on the party leaders to take responsibility for ensuring that national and local government and the NHS keep their promise to move people with a learning disability out of ATUs like Winterbourne View.
The delivery of the petitions followed the families’ joining a parliamentary meeting where NHS England’s chief executive, Simon Stevens, addressed MPs and Peers about the commitment he has made to close institutions and support people with a learning disability to live in the community.
The All Party Parliamentary Groups on Learning Disability and Disability joined together to hold the meeting, giving parliamentarians, people with a learning disability, family members and carers a last opportunity before parliament rises for the general election campaign to ask senior officials how the government, NHS and other agencies will meet their commitment to move people out of ATUs and back into the community. The meeting was co-chaired by Tom Clarke MP and Anne McGuire MP.
Mencap President Lord Rix said: “Ever since BBC Panorama exposed the horrific abuse at Winterbourne View, myself and friends in both the Commons and the Lords have together with Mencap been working hard to keep the matter high on the political agenda so that we help people with a learning disability who are trapped in similar units get back into their communities.
“There is still a great amount of work to be done and we will continue to shout loudly so that the next Government, whoever they may be, picks up the mantel – until all people with a learning disability are supported to live independent lives in their communities together with their friends and families.”
Right to family life
Another parent to deliver the petition was Phill Wills. Phill’s 13-year-old son, Josh, is stuck in an ATU 250 miles away from his family home in Cornwall. On the 1-year anniversary of the launch of his ‘Bring Josh Home’ petition, which amassed 241,000 signatures, Phill said:
“For Josh, our whole family and our 241,000 supporters, delivering our petition to Number 10 Downing Street today marked the end of our first year – a year that has seen non-stop campaigning and heartfelt support to get Josh's voice heard.
“But our work isn't done. Josh still isn't home. The wheels are turning slowly but we need to keep going and make sure this isn't all for nothing. We must make sure that Josh and every other person who is stuck in a unit gets what they have a right to - a family life and a place to call home.
“People like the Care Minister, Norman Lamb, Tom Clarke MP and my local MP Sarah Newton have been fundamental in driving this campaign forward. We have an election coming up and we don't know who will be in power come May. But what we do know is that the next government – no matter who they are – must carry on this vital campaign to bring our loved ones home.”
Leo Andrade was another parent to deliver the petition. Her 20-year-old son, Stephen, was stuck in an ATU for 2 years where he was not allowed outside and was on a mix of inappropriate drugs.
She said: “To the next government I would say please, please keep driving this work forward. Find ways for people to keep their families together, where the child is in a loving environment where they belong – and if that isn’t enough, remember it’s actually cheaper than keeping our children in units. They don’t belong in these places where no one can possibly care for them as we do.”