The right to life is a fundamental right to which we are all entitled, but a Westminster Hall debate this week on support and safeguarding for adults with learning disabilities starkly highlighted the preventable deaths of two young men.
At Dimensions, we believe people have the right to live independently, to be included in society and to be free from harm. To us, good support, inclusion and safeguarding are parts of the same whole.
Independent living is about determining what happens in your life. Even people with the most profound learning disabilities can make clear what they do and don’t want to happen and what is important to them.
Independent living relies on access to effective services, from health and social care, to education, to housing, and employment support. These services give people agency over their lives and visibility in their community.
Social inclusion depends on people being visible and valued in their communities, but historically people with learning disabilities have had limited opportunities to participate in society.
When people are socially excluded they are likely to be more at risk. This might be from discrimination and hate crime, or from an increased reliance on services that can abuse and neglect them. Inclusion helps people to build natural networks of support, in which they are valued and respected.
Jackie Fletcher, Group Director of Quality, Public Affairs and Policy commented “Institutions may have closed, but we are still overcoming the bias and stigma of this history.
“In some cases, there remains a disregard for the rights and dignity of people with learning disabilities and their families, which can expose them to harm with tragic consequences.”
The debate was fittingly held during National Hate Crime Awareness Week.
Through the deaths of two young men, Lee Irving and Connor Sparrowhawk, MPs highlighted the prejudice people with learning disabilities experience within services and society more broadly.
Catherine McKinnell, MP for Tyneside North and Barbara Keeley, Shadow Minister for Social Care, underlined how a lack of effective support from adult services put Lee and Connor more at risk, one from the hostility of his eventual killers and the other from neglect in a specialist hospital unit.
In her response, Jackie Doyle-Price, Minister for Social Care, recognised that people with learning disabilities encounter wide-spread prejudice.
The minister rightly highlighted the way that services can fail to protect people from harm, often through a lack of involvement from families and a failure to respond to the specific needs of the individual they are meant to support.
A key point in the debate was the need to include families in care planning and for services to act on their concerns.
At Dimensions, we recognise that including families is an important part of delivering person-centred support. Families and friends help us to understand their loved one and play a crucial role in keeping them safe.
Liz Wilson, Dimensions Family Consultant commented “Good services can do a great deal to support people to have safe and fulfilling lives, but services don’t inherently keep people safe.
“People are safest when those that care most about them and know them best play a part in their support.”
We will always make mistakes in human services but the deaths of Lee Irving and Connor Sparrowhawk could have been avoided if professionals had listened to their families and acted on what they said.
Dimensions’ policy and practice has been directly changed because of the death of Connor Sparrowhawk and we will reflect on what we can do as a result of Lee Irving’s death to strengthen our campaigning against hate crime through #ImWithSam and the work we do with services responsible for tackling this issue.
We welcome the debate on support and safeguarding for adults with learning disabilities.
It is relevant to multiple policy areas, from supported housing, to Transforming Care, to action against hate crime.
Above all the rights of people with learning disabilities, including the right to independent living, should be central to the considerations of those that design and deliver services and those with a responsibility for safeguarding.
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For more information, interviews, and case studies contact Hannah McCreesh, Communications and PR Officer at Dimensions, on (e) Hannah.firstname.lastname@example.org (t) 0300 303 9062.
Dimensions provides evidence-based, outcomes-focused support for people with learning disabilities, autism and complex needs. We help people be actively involved in their communities.
We are one of the largest not-for-profit support providers in the UK. We currently support around 3,500 people and their families throughout England and Wales with help from our 7,000 members of staff.
We have been providing support packages for families for 40 years. We offer a range of support services to adults of all ages, including those with complex needs or challenging behaviour.
We are proud to be a not-for-profit organisation, not here for commercial gain. This means we’re able to invest all our efforts and resources into the important things – which is helping the people we support lead happy and fulfilled lives.