Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Give us a break

danscorer Short breaks are a vital service for families caring for people with a learning disability, but too many are still not accessing this, and it is pushing some to breaking point, says Mencap’s Dan Scorer:

Too many families caring for people with a learning disability are at breaking point because they are not getting the short breaks support they so desperately need. When we talk about short breaks, we’re not referring to a long weekend away, but to the time off from caring that families greatly need, sometimes for as little as one evening a month.

For many, caring for a loved one is part of the fabric of their lives, but without the right support the personal cost of caring can be high. Mencap’s Short Breaks report, launched today, reveals just how high these personal costs can be.

An overwhelming 8 in 10 family carers told Mencap that they have reached or felt close to reaching a point of crisis because they don’t get enough short breaks. Shockingly, 3 in 10 carers we surveyed had never even had a short break. Without the lifeline of temporary outside care for their loved one with a learning disability, the physical and mental health of family carers is being put on the line.

The Government has recognised the demand for high quality, safe short breaks for people with a learning disability and their families, with a recent investment of £1.2 billion. But our report found that this money is not actually being spent on the services that families desperately need. In fact, at the same time as demand for short breaks is on the rise, many councils across England have closed short breaks services or cut spending on them.

If these cuts to short breaks services continue, family carers could be left unable to carry on, with devastating impacts on them and the loved ones they care for. This short breaks crisis could also leave the state footing a huge bill, with family carers at breaking point putting greater demand on health, welfare and social care services.

The availability of short breaks has been at a critically poor level over the past decade, with no real improvement since Mencap launched its Breaking Point campaign in 2003. At the present rate, a bad situation is in danger of getting far worse, unless the government takes urgent action.

They need to show support for families by ring-fencing the money for short breaks, so that it is actually spent on improving these services. Councils must also intervene early so that no family carer is left to reach a crisis point due to a lack of short breaks.

We must act now to make sure that every family carer who needs a break gets a break.

Dan Scorer is senior campaigns and policy manager at Mencap

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