There was a grim inevitability about the recent case of Riven Vincent.
Ms Vincent hit the headlines when she admitted she could no longer cope with her daughter Celyn’s round-the-clock care. Exasperated and exhausted, she begged her social worker to find a care home for her six-year-old daughter, who has severe quadriplegic cerebral palsy and epilepsy.
Her plea came after the local social services department said there was no chance of receiving any additional respite care. This was the final straw for Riven, who had previously met David Cameron in the run-up to the general election and received assurances from him about service provision.
Learning disability and carers organisations alike have been warning of this sort of scenario for months – it just needed one person with a link to the Prime Minister to get it into the national newspapers.
I’m sure more Riven Vincents will emerge in the coming months – and not just parents and carers of children with learning disabilities, but of adults as well.
Many councils are cutting their social services budgets and this will impact on the frontline – whether it is declining requests for additional services, cutting services, or tightening eligibility criteria. This could tip many families into crisis.
Meanwhile, and at the risk of sounding like a harbinger of doom, things could get even tougher. By the time you read this, the Department for Work and Pensions’ consultation on the future of disability living allowance (DLA) will have closed and we will be a step closer to the reform of the benefit.
When plans for reform were first announced last year, many people were shocked by the proposal to scrap the mobility component of DLA. The benefit, worth up to £50 a week for publicly-funded care home residents and children in residential special schools, is a lifeline for many to the wider community.
If this is implemented, while it may save the government an estimated £135 million a year, it will mean misery for many people who rely on the payment for their independence. Many say that without it, they will be virtually housebound.
Hopefully the government will listen to the flood of opposition to this proposal – which included a high-profile internet campaign – and revise its plans accordingly.
Taking such benefits away can only help to keep people stuck in a cycle of institutionalisation and dependency – the opposite of what the government wants.
It could also restrict people’s chances of gaining employment – another government goal. As two features in this issue demonstrate, given the chance, people with learning disabilities can undertake important jobs.
But taking away support – benefits or services – can only harm the chances of people with learning disabilities getting jobs such as these. Let’s hope that government and councils recognise this as they plan for the coming years.