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

New year, old problems

It might be a new year, but the same problems remain forpeople with learning disabilities, their families and those whocare for them. And they won’t be going away any time soon. When Iwas thinking about this first blog of 2012, I decided to go backand look at what I wrote in my Learning Disability Todayeditorial at the turn of 2011. Some things haven’t changed. Ifocused on how 2010 had been a tough year, with worries overchanging government policy, cuts in funding and the threat ofbenefit changes. I also said that the planned government whitepaper on the future financing of adult social care would becrucial. All sounds very familiar. If anything, these worries haveincreased in 2011 – and probably will do so again in 2012 – and thewhite paper is even more important. Last year, following thecoalition’s Vision for Social Care I was quite optimistic about theprospects for the white paper. But now, I’m afraid, pessimism hastaken over. The government’s lukewarm reaction to the Dilnot reportin the summer didn’t help. Adult social care has been crying outfor reform for many years. My worry is that the government may fixthe political problem of older people having to sell their housesto pay for residential care, but other, more fundamental reformsmay not be pursued, among them, the proper funding of social care.However, there are cross-party talks planned by ministers forFebruary to tackle this thorniest of problems. Hopefully, thesewill be more fruitful than the last time they were attempted in2010, when they collapsed, just before the last election. It is achance that cannot be missed, but I still have a nagging feelingthat economics will be the major driver of change, rather thanimproved outcomes for service users. Elsewhere, funding cuts arereally biting hard. There are weekly stories in localnewspapers/websites of day and other similar services being closedand more anecdotal evidence of care packages being cut for serviceusers, especially for those with less critical needs. Sadly, thefunding situation is not going to improve in 2012 – or for severalyears to come – so these stories, and their effects on people withlearning disabilities and their families, will continue. But,trying, for at least a moment, to put a positive spin on things,funding cuts could also provide some real opportunities. As I wrotelast year, there are many individuals and organisations that make adifference, regardless of funding cuts or government policy (orlack of it). And, as someone once said, necessity can be the motherof invention. Constrained finances could drive innovation, asorganisations and learning disability professionals seek to providepersonalised services at lower cost. While 2012 is set to be adifficult year for many people within the sector, it is importantthat good and innovative practice is given the prominence itdeserves. Hopefully that will ensure that best practice is spreadand that the negative effects of cuts will, at least in part, bemitigated.

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