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LEARNING DISABILITY TASK FORCE REPORTS

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There have been many improvements in the quality of life for people with ...
There have been many improvements in the quality of life for people with

learning disabilities over the past year, according to the Learning

Disabilities Task Force, whose second annual report is published today.

The report welcomes government's decision to provide additional funds

for advocacy groups, the fact that more people are receiving direct

payments so that they can pay for services themselves, and that more

people are taking advantage of opportunities to make their voices heard,

lead change, and to be part of decision making processes.

It also particularly singles out the increased activity of the Learning

Disability Hotline, and the extent to which the Department of Health and

the Valuing People Support Team have been helping to raise the profile

of learning disability issues throughout the country.

However, the report - which is written throughout in accessible language

- says that things haven't got better for everyone with learning

disabilities over the past three years - especially for people from

minority ethnic communities and people and families who have high levels

of support needs.

Many people with learning disabilities face social exclusion, and the

task force believes that not enough is being done to make plans to help

move those people still living in long stay hospitals - most of whom

have high levels of need - into the community.

And it expresses fears that the new Mental Incapacity Bill could be used

to prevent people with learning disabilities from making decisions for

themselves, while the Sexual Offences Bill could be used to stop them

having relationships, learning about sex and having a sex life. 'People

with learning disabilities need to be asked what they think about

changes in the law from the start,' the report says.

The report ranges over a number of keys areas that impact on the quality

of life of people with learning disabilities.

* Many people from mino rity ethnic communities face racism, are poor,

and face discrimination in employment, education, health and social

services, the report says. In some cases services do not have the

skilled staff needed to work with people from minority ethnic

communities who have learning disabilities.

The task force is pleased that a lot of good work is being done, 'but

things need to change across all England.' It is particularly concerned

about the plight of asylum seekers with learning disabilities, and wants

government to set targets for work with minority ethnic communities and

audit their numbers, as well as publishing more papers and reports in

other languages.

'The minister has agreed to give all the support he can to make sure

that everyone in government and local services understands the

importance of taking action on ethnicity issues,' the report says.

* The report calls for local authorities to provide better information

on services and benefits available to them, to increase the amount of

respite care and the numbers of specially trained workers to support

families.

Although the report is concerned that some families - particularly

families with people in need of high levels of support - are not getting

all the help they need, it acknowledges that further work is being done

'to try to find out how money is spent on services for people with

learning disabilities and families.'

* The task force argues that specialist learning disability health

services should change the way they work 'so that they really help

adults and children with learning disabilities to benefit from the same

services that other people use.' In some places this is starting to

happen.

The task force wants to examine ways in which people with learning

disabilities might have a health check-up every year.

* Some 55 per cent of families with a disabled child live in, or on the

edges of, poverty. Families from minority ethnic communi ties fare worse.

Benefits do not always cover extra costs, and 'many families say that

they are living in poor housing and they are finding it very hard to get

help with adaptations and equipment.'

One of the problems the task force identifies is the belief among many

people with learning disabilities, their families and day centre staff

that people can't work because of their benefits. The report says: 'this

is often not true. People need up-to-date, accessible information about

benefits and work.'

Overall, the report is pleased that more services, government

departments and partnership boards are making information and meetings

easier to understand. 'This is helping lots of people, not just people

with learning disabilities, to get involved in what is happening.'

The report also praises the way in which more people with learning

disabilities are making choices, taking control and getting help to plan

their own lives. More people with learning disabilities are finding out

about Valuing People, regional and national forums, and self-advocacy.

But it also argues that there are too many areas without good advocacy

services, that people have little or no choice about the types of

advocacy they receive or who provides it, and that 'many advocacy groups

and services struggle to get funding.'

Local authorities should spend a fixed sum on each person with learning

disabilities in their area, the funding should last for at least five

years, and all health and community care service providers should

support independent advocacy, the report says.

Other concerns raised in the report include fears that some people with

learning disabilities who have been happy where they live feel like

their homes are turning into institutions because there are so many new

rules to follow.

And there is a continuing concern that 'many people do not have choices,

rights, independence and are socially excluded because transport is not

accessible or is too expensive. This is especially a problem for people

with learning disabilities and families living outside of cities.'

Co-chair of the task force, Michelle Chinery, said: 'There are signs that

some improvements are being made in the lives of people with learning

disabilities. But there are still far too many people and families

excluded from our mainstream services - especially those from minority

ethnic communities, and families with high levels of need.'

Her co-chair, Mary Ney, said: 'I was delighted to be appointed co-chair

last September. I hope to be able to help the task force strengthen its

links with those wider local government services which can be so

important in helping to improve the quality of life for people with

learning disabilities.'

Notes

The Learning Disability Task Force was set up as a consequence of the

government White Paper Valuing People, published in 2001.

It is co-chaired by Michelle Chinery, a woman with learning disabilities

with more than ten years experience of campaigning on behalf of people

with learning disabilities, and Mary Ney who is chief executive of

Greenwich LBC.

Copies of the taskforce report will be available here

on Thursday morning: www.dh.gov.uk/learningdisabilities

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