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

It’s time for the learning disability sector to save itself

Billy Davis is Hft’s Public Affairs and Policy Manager.


Continually delayed plans

Despite being published in 2011, the recommendations of the Dilnot Commission for social care were never fully implemented by the coalition government. Theresa May’s planned green paper on the future of social care was plagued by continued delays, and ultimately did not see the light of day during her tenure as Prime Minister. This green paper has since been torn-up by her successor Boris Johnson, whose own “ready to implement” white paper on social care has now seemingly been postponed from an October publication date to the New Year.

“It has become increasingly clear that the government either cannot – or will not – save the sector. The time has come for us to rally together to find the solutions ourselves.”

All the while, demand for services continues to increase. Learning disabilities is one of the fastest growing sectors in adult social care. People with learning disabilities are living longer lives and at the same time, the number of those displaying complex needs is also increasing. Only six of the 151 local authorities in England spent more on care for working-age adults than they did on care for the elderly in 2005, but this had risen to 57 by 2017.

Despite this, we believe that our elected officials do not fully understand the size and scale of the sector. In a recent YouGov poll commissioned by Hft, only 7% of MPs successfully stated that learning disability accounts for around one-third of the total adult social care spend in England. More than half of all MPs (53%) thought it was less than 15%.  

‘Improving Outcomes, Enhancing Care’

It is against this background of continued government inertia that national learning disability charity Hft and healthcare technology provider Tunstall published the policy paper Improving Outcomes, Enhancing Care: Assistive technology and a case for a Sector Deal for the learning disability sector.*

A Sector Deal is part of the government’s Industrial Strategy programme. It is a partnership between government and industry on sector-specific issues to create significant opportunities to boost productivity, employment, innovation, and skills. In our paper, we argue that a Sector Deal with a focus around investment and innovation in assistive technologies could be transformative in addressing the ongoing challenges being faced by the sector.

The ways in which assistive technologies can be used to enhance and improve the support people receive is well documented. Whether it is through the use of sensors to monitor people’s sleep patterns without invading their privacy, or a simple one-cup kettle that means someone can make a cup of tea safely and by themselves, there are many ways in which technology – both hi-tech and high street – can be used to promote independence for people with learning disabilities. As well as the emotional and physical benefits, promoting independence also frees up support staff to provide more meaningful care, ultimately improving the overall quality of the support provided.

The potential for assistive technologies – such as telecare personal alarm systems – for adults with learning disabilities is currently very underdeveloped. Today, there are 1.7 million people in the UK using telecare, but only 1.7% of these are adults with learning disabilities. This represents just 28,900 people out of the 1.4 million adults with learning disabilities in the UK. By opening up the sector to greater investment and innovation, we can realise the untapped potential of assistive technologies to support working age adults. Products and services created under this Sector Deal will not only improve support for people in England but can also be exported overseas, potentially helping deliver enhanced support for people with learning disabilities across the world.

Invcentivising commissioners

As these new products and services come online, support staff will be required to be upskilled in the use of this new technology. As social care becomes a more highly-skilled profession, it is our belief that this will lead to increased wages for our hardworking staff.  

Social care providers and local authority commissioners will be incentivised to invest in the future of social care services, rewarding providers for providing high quality care in a more efficient way. This will ultimately lead to a reduction in overall social care spend in a way that does not damage the financial sustainability of the social care sector – or the quality of care that it provides.

However, Hft and Tunstall cannot make this change happen on their own.

It has become increasingly clear that the government either cannot – or will not – save the sector. The time has come for us to rally together to find the solutions ourselves. We therefore call on providers, local authorities, assistive technology companies, families and self-advocates to join our call for a Sector Deal for the learning disability sector, to deliver the sustainable and innovative future we deserve.



More information about Hft and Tunstall’s campaign for a Sector Deal for the learning disability sector can be found at: www.hft.org.uk/LDSectorDeal

* Full report here.

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