The Scottish Government is consulting on the priorities for a new learning disability strategy – but why is something similar not being undertaken in England and Wales?
It is now 10 years since the Scottish Government launched its national strategy for learning disability, ‘The same as you?’, and it has met with some success, according to research by the Scottish Consortium for Learning Disability (SCLD). It found that people with learning disabilities now have better access to opportunities in the community, such as going to college and taking part in activities that interest them, compared to a decade ago.
However, SCLD also found that there is still significant work to do if people with learning disabilities are to be equal with their non-disabled peers. For example, few people with learning disabilities have paid jobs, many want more opportunities to work and live independently with support, and discrimination and prejudice is still a problem. Opportunities for people with complex learning disabilities are also still limited.
The Scottish Government has acknowledged this and has committed to producing a new strategy for people with learning disabilities.
It is great news for people with learning disabilities north of the border that their government is making them such an obvious priority – something that politicians in Westminster could learn from.
There is no over-arching learning disability strategy in England and Wales since Valuing People Now (VPN) petered out last year. Care services minister Paul Burstow told me earlier in the year that there will be no new VPN-type policy to replace it, but that learning disability issues will form a key part of the much-vaunted social care white paper, whenever that sees the light of day.
Burstow also said that people with learning disabilities will continue to be a priority in housing and employment policies. The controversial scaling-back of Remploy and refocusing of the funds elsewhere could be seen as part of this. He also said that learning disability services in the future will be driven more from a local level, tying in with the Government’s commitment to localism.
While this may sound good, without the drive of a government policy such as VPN putting an onus on local authorities and other bodies to get results there are worries that the learning disability agenda is being sidelined, especially given the current financial situation.
Nevertheless, whether you live north or south of the border, much has been achieved to improve the lives of people with learning disabilities in the past decade. However, significant work is still needed to address some of the barriers people face – and in many cases these are the same issues regardless of if you live in England, Scotland or Wales. But it seems that the Scottish Government is being more decisive in taking action to address them.