Friday, 18 March 2016

A perfect storm looms threateningly over independent living for people with learning disabilities

Whilst we are all still reeling from the fact that a majority of MPs voted for disabled people receiving ESA and in the Work Related Activity Group to have £30 a week taken from their benefits,   George Osbourne’s budget was shocking in its clear intent that disabled people will bear the brunt of the cuts. The budget did not even mention social care.
The National Living Wage comes in on the 1st April 2016, a welcome development if support and housing providers can pay a wage that direct support staff deserve. But with little evidence of cash strapped local authorities increasing fees and no support from central government, we will see more and more support services becoming unviable and unsafe.
The lack of clarity over the future funding of supported housing and how the LHA cap will affect rents has left landlords and developers in a position where they can’t invest in housing for disabled people and incur the inevitable higher costs because they can’t be certain the housing will be affordable.
Yesterday the Equality and Human Rights Commission published a profoundly depressing (but not shocking) report  England’smost disadvantaged groups: people with learning disabilities that says that many learning disabled people are still excluded and continue to face inequality in every aspect of their lives. Still only 7% of adults with learning disabilities have employment, people with learning disabilities have poorer health than the rest of the population and die younger than everyone else.  The average age of death for people with learning disabilities is 58 years compared with 82 years for other people. A recent independent review by the audit company Mazars, found that one NHS Trust failed to investigate the deaths of more than 1000 people with learning disabilities or mental health problems.
The Winterbourne View programme floundered because we failed to develop the community based services that people need to avoid hospital admission, this includes the housing and support that enables people to live independently and more than 3000 people remain in hospitals, many unnecessarily.
It is widely acknowledged that supporting people with learning disabilities in their communities requires investment in good housing, care and support to ensure that they have the same rights as everyone else to determine their lives. Good community support keeps people healthier and happier and reduces the burden on the NHS,  yet current reforms, practice and spending do exactly the opposite.
Where are we supposed to go from here?  The housing, care and support organisations that are based on principles of social justice and equality are torn between a need to maintain integrity and safety in what they provide and not drive down the quality and quantity of the support they give. If they say they can’t do this anymore, the people they support will be tendered out to the lowest bidder and they let down the very people they have been fighting with and for to achieve an equal place in society.
My colleague Dr Alison Rose-Quirie, CEO of Swanton Care and Community and a Director of H&SA, agrees that the Government is failing the most vulnerable members of our society.  
Earlier this week she said: “The Chancellor claims his recent budget was one that ‘puts the next generation first’ - but what about today’s generation of vulnerable adults who need help now?
"The extent of the current funding crisis in social care is unprecedented and the fact that the budget did not warrant a single mention is troubling.
“We were already facing challenging conditions, as accelerating demographic changes mean an ever increasing demand for our services, but add to that the introduction of the National Living Wage and many providers are wondering what the future holds. The implications for a poorly resourced social care sector will also have ramifications for the wider health service and the NHS.
“Put bluntly, if social care providers decide to leave the sector vulnerable adults will end up in unsuitable care settings that will put immense pressure on an already struggling system. In truth we are one system, not two, and the sooner we move to full integration the better for all our sakes.
Next week the Housing and Support Alliance welcomes a visit from the Australian politicians that are successfully dealing with these issues alongside care and support providers and disabled Australians and their families. A Productivity Commission in Australia found that it would cost more to do nothing about the growing need for social care for working age adults than to provide an entitlement to social care through a National DisabilityInsurance Scheme. This simple finding forced the government to look at funding properly, and in giving disabled Australians a fair amount of funding for social care, they are already finding that they are spending money better.
H&SA fully supports Norman Lamb’s calls for a cross-party commission on NHS and social care if it can achieve what is needed to give people with learning disabilities a future they can look forward to. However, right now there are thousands of people with learning disabilities, for one reason or another, that face a fearful and uncertain future and as organisations that support them, we need to stand by them and challenge every threat and every injustice that those we support face. What alternative is there?

Alicia Wood, chief executive, Housing and Support Alliance

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