At the start of a new year, it is traditional to look forward to what may happen in the coming 12 months. But, sadly, it seems that many people with learning disabilities, and those who work with them, will not be looking forward with any relish as the tough times of the previous few years look set to continue.
Thinking about what to write for this blog, I re-read my postings from this time in 2012 and 2011. In some ways, very little has changed; many people within the sector remain worried about the effect of local authority budget cuts on services and about the impact of benefit reforms.
But this year these concerns could mount still further. In April, the next round of local authority funding cuts kicks in, with social care services once more set to have to attempt the increasingly difficult trick of doing the same with less. The salami can only be sliced so thinly and more cutbacks to services look likely, although some areas will be hit worse than others. As usual with social care, where you live will be an important determinant in the services you receive.
Financial worries also seem to be mounting for an increasing range of learning disability charities, and other third sector organisations. A number closed due to lack of funds late last year – including the Social Care Association and Values into Action – and I know of several that are struggling to find the money they need to continue, while others will be scaling back their services to ensure they can remain open.
On the same theme, welfare reform continues – universal credit will be introduced later this year – and many claimants with learning disabilities, especially those at the milder end of the spectrum, are worried about losing out on some, or all, of their benefits. For example, concerns over the work capability assessment for employment and support allowance do not seem to have been addressed and many decisions are still being challenged through the tribunal system.
The other thing I wrote about at this point in the past couple of years were my hopes for social care reform. I’m still hoping, but not with much optimism.
While last year’s Care and Support Bill, had some good items in it, it ducked the main issue: funding social care. The Government is still wrangling over how much people should contribute to their care – 18 months after the Dilnot report – so the chances of getting movement on wider funding of social care are somewhere between zero and nil. Any reform that doesn’t deal with this key issue will do little to solve the other fundamental problems that still exist in social care.
But, as with last year, there are still many service providers out there delivering often innovative support services that are making a genuine difference to the lives of people with learning disabilities. Anyone who attended the Learning Disability Today conference and exhibition in November will have seen some great examples. These need to be celebrated more than ever.
But for many, access to services such as these will be restricted – if not removed altogether – by the cuts expected this year. The impact these will have is difficult to quantify, but it could severely affect people’s quality of life. That worry is why many people with learning disabilities won’t be looking forward to 2013.