learning disabilities over the past year, according to the Learning
Disabilities Task Force, whose second annual report is published today.
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
'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
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
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
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
Copies of the taskforce report will be available here
on Thursday morning: www.dh.gov.uk/learningdisabilities