With more local authority cuts coming in April – and in years to come – social care is again in the crosshairs of the commissioners. But its value to people with learning disabilities must not be underestimated and services can be successfully fought for.
In Nottingham this week, people with Asperger’s syndrome are celebrating a significant victory, as news came through that Nottinghamshire County Council had dropped plans to scrap its Adults with Asperger’s Team after concerns were raised by people with autism and their families.
The Adults with Asperger’s Team, which has been held up as an example of good practice by the government, was under threat as part of the council’s plans to save £154 million over the next three years. But, thanks to efforts of local organisations such as Autistic Nottingham – a user-led support group, helped by the National Autistic Society (NAS) – which marshalled the support of their members and the autism community more widely, the council has decided to keep the team in place.
This shows what can be done when people get organised at a local level to challenge proposed cuts and make their voices heard.
Nationally, there is also a battle to be fought. The Care Bill, which is currently making its way through Parliament, could mean more than 100,000 disabled people will not have access to care and support for basic needs under the Government’s proposed changes to eligibility criteria, according to 2013 report The other care crisis by disability charities including Mencap and the NAS.
This would largely affect people who only receive a relatively small amount of social care – perhaps as little as a few hours a month.
While some people might scoff and think that if a person only needs a few hours per month then they could probably cope with no hours, this is often not the case, especially for people with learning disabilities. For example, Lorraine Bellamy, who has a learning disability and works for Mencap, has six hours of support per month, but she says this enables her to stay in work and live independently. Her support worker helps her with things like managing her bills and also supports her to go out and pursue more activities in the community.
Bellamy outlined her story to the All Party Parliamentary Groups on Health and on Learning Disability recently, and urged the government to listen to the voices of people with a disability to make sure they don’t lose out on the vital support they need to live independent lives: “I’m worried that there are people worse off than me who don’t get any support at all and I worry about what happens to them,” she said.
The Care Bill is not yet law, but time is running out before it is. Now is the time for people with learning disabilities to make their voices heard and encourage the government to ensure that people don’t lose out on the sort of support that can make the difference between living independently and not. As the Nottingham case shows, if enough people voice their concerns, then those in power can, and sometimes do, change their minds.