Scott Watkin is a worried man. The learning disability consultant has already experienced the impact of government cuts and fears that things will get even worse in the coming years.
Speaking at the annual Learning Disability Today conference and exhibition at the Business Design Centre in London yesterday, Watkin outlined his worries for the future of care services, employment, health and housing for people with learning disabilities.
For instance, he is concerned that care services could suffer further; cutbacks have already been made to the amount of care he and others receive, especially where people have less demanding needs. He worries that only those with the highest support needs will have a support worker. This could lead to people missing out on vital services and, as a consequence, ending up in crisis situations.
In terms of employment, people with learning disabilities are to be included in the mainstream work programmes. But Watkin is unsure whether they will have the same chances of getting a job, under these programmes, as they did with Valuing Employment Now.
In healthcare, he doesn’t believe that professionals always take people with learning disabilities seriously or make reasonable adjustments when they treat them. He also feels that too few people receive an annual health check.
But he’s really worried that those in power are not listening. Since the demise of the Valuing People Now team at the end of March, there have been concerns that it hasn’t been adequately replaced and, consequently, there is no voice in government advocating for people with learning disabilities. These fears, judging by the feelings expressed yesterday, have not been addressed.
As a result, it is up to people with learning disabilities, their carers and those who work with them, to make their voices heard in government – at both the local and the national level.
Indeed, as this week’s government u-turn on plans to axe the mobility component of disability living allowance to people living in care homes shows, when people involved in the sector get together and speak up for their rights in a concerted campaign, they can make a real difference.
As times get tougher – and yesterday’s autumn statement from Chancellor George Osborne suggests that they are going to – the voice of people with learning disabilities must not be drowned out.
People like Scott Watkin do a brilliant job, speaking up for people with learning disabilities and fighting for their rights, as do many others within the sector, such as Rob Greig, chief executive of the National Development Team for Inclusion (NDTi), who also added that people with learning disabilities should “not go quiet”.
Watkin and Greig are right. As the squeeze on public sector spending continues, people with learning disabilities will have to fight even more vigorously to hold on to their services. The collective voice of the sector is powerful and must come to the fore, for everyone’s sake.