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Beyond the B-word: my hopes for the manifestos

Steve Scown, Dimensions CEO, blogs

Will Brexit make this a single-issue general election? I hope not, because nothing could be worse for vulnerable people in Britain today.

Theresa May says she wants a stronger mandate to push her Brexit plans through. That’s understandable. She became PM with a promise to get the job done and if her record in government points to anything, it is to perseverance.

A greater parliamentary majority would certainly make it easier for her to deliver Brexit. Important as Brexit is for us – is that the only thing that matters? I don’t believe it is.

There are other vitally important issues to talk about. I want to highlight some of the key issues facing people we support – people with learning disabilities and autism across England and Wales, and suggest things for you to look for in the manifestos when they come out.

I blogged last year about the social care issues relating to Brexit – these remain more or less unchanged and you can read about them here. But whether we like it or not, Brexit is going to happen. But we must not allow Brexit to dominate and distract us from the real issues facing people with learning disabilities in Britain today.

Personal Independence Payments. The prevalence of hate crime. The travails of the transforming care programme. Housing benefit for supported housing. Closing the disability employment gap. Funding for social care. I could go on but I won’t.

Each of these are real-life knotty issues, affecting the lives of people now and into the future. Each is worthy of attention in the party manifestos. Will any of them get a mention? That remains to be seen.

Past experience doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence Last time round, there were no mentions of either group from any of the main three parties. If ever there was a wake-up call to get out and vote, surely that is it.

Personal Independence Payments

Alongside 30 other CEOs, I recently co-signed a letter to the government urging a rethink on proposed PIP changes, which I believe will leave at least 160,000 disabled people and those with long-term conditions without access to the financial support that they need.

The manifestos won’t go into detail on alternatives, but I would be favorably disposed to any party that acknowledges the current and proposed systems are in need of a fundamental rethink.

Hate Crime

New research for Dimensions’ #ImWithSam campaign from the Office for National Statistics confirms what we have always known: that people with learning disabilities are disproportionately likely to encounter disability hate crime.

#ImWithSam has put many wheels in motion – around education, policing and justice – but recent Home Office Select Committee recommendations focus on race and religious hate almost to the exclusion of other types.

I would be favourably disposed to any party that highlights the prevalence of learning disability and autism hate in Britain today – and promises to follow the #ImWithSam recommendations to tackle it.

Transforming Care

Dimensions has long advocated specific plans for how to oil the wheels of the Transforming Care agenda – and get more people out of horrible places (otherwise known as ATUs) and back into their local communities, where they want to be.

The problem was well illustrated in Channel 4’s dispatches programme in March, and you can read our recommendations here.

I would be favourably disposed to any party that makes specific, detailed promises in its manifesto along these lines. No waffle. No empty promises. A clear unequivocal promise.

Housing Benefit for Supported Housing

National Housing Federation figures show that 80% of planned supported housing projects have been put on hold and 40% of existing supported accommodation schemes are at risk of closure.

This is all due to uncertainty – which has lasted a full parliament – over the possible extension of the Local Housing Allowance cap to supported living. I would be favourably disposed to any party which ends the equivocation.

The Disability Employment Gap

The current government published a Green Paper on this which singularly failed to acknowledge the massive variation in employment rates between people with physical and learning disabilities.

Now, even this appears to have been sidelined. Dimensions responded to the Green paper and we would welcome any manifesto that reignites constructive debate about how to tackle this difficult issue.

Funding for social care

The central economic issue that surely must make it into every manifesto. Look for proposals that don’t gloss over the issues. Proposals that acknowledge the funding gap faced by local authorities in light of policies such as national living wage and sleep-ins.

Proposals that recognise the need for quality support, avoiding a price-driven race to the bottom. And proposals which make concrete funding proposals not reliant on improbable national economic performance, perhaps even those that look to a long horizon – though seven generations may be too much to ask.

The bottom line? People with learning disabilities and autism can get overlooked in manifestos because very few of our community vote.

If you don’t vote, you can’t grumble about the result. Over the coming weeks, Dimensions will be sharing content from the manifestos, including any easy-read versions, that relate to the topics above. But only you can judge what is best for you, and your family.