Posted by Duncan Bell at 14/04/2015 15:16:14
Dimensions has just released a poll of 100 MPs asking if they agreed that almost everyone with learning disabilities is capable of being supported into paid and productive employment writes Alex Seddon. As Head of Supported Employment at Dimensions, I found the results of this very disappointing with over 60% disagreeing or undecided. This could be a result of not having a full understanding of two things: learning disabilities, and supported employment.
Around 1.5 million people in the UK have a learning disability. This affects the way they understand information and also how they communicate. This means they can have difficulty understanding new or complex information, learning new skills, and coping independently
Learning disabilities are often given a specific label which generalises it when, in reality, how it affects the individual is very personal and can vary dramatically. This is why we shouldn’t apply labels to people and try to place them in a nice neat box; it gives very unrealistic stereotypes that are then used in publicity, ads and campaigns to raise awareness which creates a false public image of what a learning disability actually is.
With the right support, people with learning disabilities can achieve their goals and ambitions. Supported employment can help; it’s an evidence-based and personalised approach to supporting people with significant disabilities into real jobs, where they can fulfil their employment aspirations, and achieve social and economic inclusion.
The overarching guiding principle of supported employment is that it is designed to support individuals who do not necessarily meet traditional criteria for ‘job readiness’ or ‘employability’. Fundamental to supported employment is the ambition that everyone can work, with the right job and the right support.
The Supported Employment model sees each individual as unique, with their own interests, preferences, conditions and life history. It helps individuals improve their interests and preferences, express their choices, and define their employment / life plan according to personal and contextual conditions. It helps individuals to understand their opportunities fully so they can make informed choices and decisions on their lifestyle and participation in society. Individuals, families and circles of support are centrally involved in the process. It is responsive to the needs of individuals, and can be adapted to meet specific requirements.
Supported employment is a flexible and continuous process, from getting to know people and employers, all the way through to career development and planned “fade out” of the job coaches who facilitate the whole process. At Dimensions’ we know from experience that with the right support, it is possible for almost anyone with learning disabilities to do a productive job. Work means far more than money and productivity. It means self esteem, confidence, social opportunity. Through these things it can also result in reductions to support costs.
Regrettably, few local authorities make this connection. Most simply look at the short term costs of supported employment and dismiss it. We urge all local authorities to explore whether or not they should be offering high quality employment support to people with learning disabilities in their area, and people with learning disabilities and their families to put the pressure on. You can find out more about Dimensions supported employment service here.
As human beings we’re all passionate about different things. I’ve discovered late in life just how great ice hockey is as a spectator sport. I go and see my local team, the Sheffield Steelers, most weekends. Last week they won the national league and over Easter I’ll be at the playoffs.
Michael, a young man with learning disabilities we support, has a different passion: Norwich City. Last week Michael got to meet their manager, which is how Norwich thank their fans who travel regularly to away games. Whilst to many Michael and I live very different lives we do have a shared passion for sport.
We’ve long been advocating for people with learning disabilities and autism to have the same opportunities and choices as everyone else. Much of my career has been about trying to shift the power balance, and change things both within Dimensions and beyond our boundaries. In my last blog, I said that the launch of “Quality Checking Government” by the Learning Disability Alliance, together with the formal NHS backing for Sir Stephen Bubb’s report “Winterbourne View – Time for Change” would come to be seen as a tipping point. I think another step forward is possible as a result of Norman Lamb’s Department of Health green paper, “No Voice Unheard, No Right Ignored.” Having read the consultation, and notwithstanding a few reservations, my optimism continues to grow.
This is a significant consultation in more ways than one with 50 questions over 71 pages. But basically it all boils down to four fundamental cultural changes to the system. We all know that meaningful change cannot be achieved through new policies or even changes to law or regulation. It comes through lasting changes to attitudes and behaviour. However, we also know that policies and regulation can discourage or block changes to attitudes and behaviour. So this green paper could - emphasis on could - help shift the balance of power away from professionals like me towards individuals and their families.
If you are familiar with my blogs and the Dimensions Love Your Vote campaign, you’ll know about our work to encourage people to vote. If you don’t speak up, your voice won’t be heard. In the middle of an election campaign it may seem strange to highlight a green paper by the outgoing government when we don’t know who is going to be in power in a couple of months’ time. No party is bound by the outcomes and there is no cross party commitment to endorse the outcomes. The most obvious threat is that the next government simply kicks this consultation into the long grass. But this consultation does offer an opportunity for us to say what we think about some potentially important changes and makes it harder for the incoming government simply to ignore this opportunity to bring about much needed improvements to the system.
The consultation does not tackle everything. Thorny issues such as hourly rates and regional variations in practice are still going to be there. But the paper does raise the prospect of financial savings; the average cost of looking after someone in an NHS facility is £177k pa; this drops by fully 20% to £140k pa for the same person in supported living. Given that people are invariably safer and have a better quality of life when supported in the community, what's not to like about that?
“Just Enough Support” may be a slightly hackneyed phrase these days, all too often spun as justification for reducing support hours. But the philosophy behind Just Enough Support is at the very heart of these proposals. Let go, State, and let people get on with their lives. We all know things work much better that way – for everyone!
This consultation points to a system changing along these lines. So at the end of one financial year and the beginning of another and looking ahead to what’s coming, I admit to being slightly surprised at my half-full glass. For the Steelers, they’re looking forward to retaining the league title. For Norwich and Michael, they’re hoping their travels next season will include Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford. For the learning disability and autism communities, next season may also bring about promotion to the same division as the rest of us. So as well as voting on May 7th, let’s also ensure our voices are heard on May 29th.