People First Lambeth – a cornerstone of learning disability advocacy services in Lambeth – is to close.

The organisation, which has been helping people for the past 25 years, will lose 90% of its funding – worth £115,000 – following the local authority’s decision not to renew its contract with them when it expires in April.

People First Lambeth is a self-advocacy organisation that supports people with learning disabilities to speak up for themselves and have choice, control and power over what happens in their lives. It is run by a management committee of people with learning disabilities and also employs people with learning disabilities. Lambeth Council confirmed that it has withdrawn funding to People First Lambeth, and emphasised that the drastic budget cuts facing the authority has meant a need to find savings. 

Cllr Jim Dickson, Lambeth Council member for health and wellbeing, said: “The unprecedented £37 million of government cuts to Lambeth’s funding this year means we are facing some extremely difficult and painful choices. “We’ve worked hard to protect funding for dozens of organisations that do important work with vulnerable adults across the borough, but for a number of reasons, we have had to take the decision not to renew our contracts with People First Lambeth.”

However, Cllr Dickson confirmed that only £200,000 in total will be saved in the learning disability budget, and those people who accessed People First Lambeth will be directed to other agencies for support. “To put this in context, we will still be spending more than £30 million next year on vital services for people with learning disabilities, including supporting a range of independent organisations that work across Lambeth. The government cuts mean we have had to look even more carefully at every penny we spend, but the amount we are proposing to save from services for people with learning disabilities is around £200,000, less than 1% of our total spending in this area. We will of course be working with People First Lambeth to make sure their clients are directed to other sources of support.”

In total, the authority has been tasked to reduce its budget by £79 million over the next 3 years. People First Lambeth is well known and respected locally and nationally, and the potential closure has come as a shock to the members, many of whom work with other organisations such as the Social Care Institute for Excellence, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Valuing People. Part of the group’s work has also included training doctors, social care and other public sector workers in how to work with people with learning disabilities.

A statement released by People First Lambeth said that members are “heartbroken” at the decision.