Posted by Steve Scown at 24/02/2015 10:33:26
I am beginning to wonder if we’re in the midst of what we’ll look back on and regard as a time of great significance. Following on from Simon Stevens’ recent and very welcome announcement regarding closing ATUs, today we’re witnessing the release by the Learning Disabilities Alliance of “Quality Checking Government”, a poll of 2000 members of the learning disability community, half of whom have a learning disability themselves.
The LDA’s end-of-term report does not make for pleasant reading, but I don’t think any of us who work with people with learning disabilities are surprised. The themes – such as work, money and social inclusion – are familiar and with marks averaging just 2 out of 10 from the 2000 respondents one would reasonably predict a CQC rating of “inadequate”. Indeed, such a poor performance would see CQC putting the government into “special measures”.
However this is not the first government we’ve experienced that would be given such a low score. For generations, people with learning disabilities have been shunned, shut away in awful places, excluded from society and generally treated as second class citizens. So why are they so consistently overlooked? Why have so many politicians of every persuasion got so many policies so wrong?
Last night, Newsnight asked why so many policies aimed at improving life for pensioners are being announced in the run up to the election. The hypothesis is that older people are a sizeable proportion of the electorate, and they vote, and so parties must try to win that vote. Well, a million people in this country have a learning disability – with their families they represent about 10% of the electorate. That’s a lot of potential voters!
But, our research in 2012 found that just 10% of people with learning disabilities voted in their last election. It’s worth considering if many more people with a learning disability voted how different things might be. That’s why Dimensions, along with Mencap and United Response, have been leading a number of campaigns aimed at encouraging people with learning disabilities and their families to vote on May 7th.
I hope that “Quality Checking Government” is taken seriously. It deserves to be, as it provides a really important baseline. In future years the learning disability community can use this report to judge if progress has been made – and then they will be able to hold politicians to account via the ballot box.
And that’s why I’m wondering if the launch of “Quality Checking Government” today may be one of those significant moments we’ll look back on. The learning disability community may be about to find its voice. But no vote, no influence. Pass it on.
Watching Newsnight’s interview of Connor Sparrowhawk’s family, I found myself reflecting on what has felt to be one of those weeks I'll remember. Whether it’ll stick with me because what’s been going on was the catalyst for much needed change, or because despite what's been going on nothing changes, remains to be seen.
Half-way through the week I read about Thomas who was in a unit miles from home and as I write, his death has just been announced. With depressing familiarity his family feel they were ignored when voicing concerns about his health. I'm trying to digest the NAO review of what the government has (not) achieved almost FOUR years on from Winterbourne View. Now is not the place for me to describe how I feel at the lack of progress and the continuing despair felt by people locked up in awful places and their families. On the same day we saw the publication of a parallel report by the Justice for LB campaign with their reflection on what’s not happened and what could make a difference. And then on Tuesday CQC published a report on an NHS trust deemed inadequate in safety and leadership - in part due to unsafe restraint practices!
Whilst waiting for Newsnight to come on last night I watched online one of the most ironic news articles I've seen in a long time and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. A BBC news article on life in an NHS Assessment & Treatment Unit, with the Trust making a case why such services were needed! The film made no reference to how long someone might stay in the unit, or the cost of the unit compared to a community-based person-centred support package, or how families and circles of support were helped to stay connected. It did however show some nice furniture and bathrooms with worktops without sharp edges. Amazingly, the professional stated not only are such units the solution to prevent people being shifted from service to service, but that "we" could make better use of the research about how to provide good support. It's not as if many better informed people than me have been quoting for far longer than I care to think that research (Mansell 1993; 2010) clearly shows people need to be supported close to their families. It is clearly OK for the NHS to ignore DH sponsored research!
If more of the same has led to no change over four years, then surely the events of this week should prompt somebody with the level of authority needed to make a stand and decide that now is the time to try something different. There are many organisations like Dimensions that, whilst we aren’t and shouldn’t try to be the answer, do have the capacity, capability and bloody-minded determination to be part of the change needed.
Are there decision makers who are brave enough to try something different? Time will clearly tell...