For years, people with learning disabilities – supported by their family and friends – have fought for their right to live in their own homes. But the progress they have made is now at risk because of local authority cutbacks, Mencap has said. That’s a backward step that we must avoid at all cost.
Despite the progress made in recent years, under the Valuing People and Valuing People Now strategies, Mencap’s report, Housing for people with a learning disability, found that even now, only 1 in 3 people with a learning disability live independently in supported accommodation, or as a tenant or home owner. However, this is still many more than 20, or even 10 years ago.
Meanwhile, 22% live in care homes. But it seems that this figure could be set to rise. In the past year, according to the report, a number of local authorities have decided that they will only support people with a learning disability to live independently, if the cost is less than moving them into residential care. So, financial pressures mean the cheaper option – rather than the best – is being chosen.
This clearly goes against the personalisation agenda, to which the Government is meant to be committed. Indeed, it seems that what is happening is the opposite of giving people more choice and control over their lives.
To me, it looks like lazy commissioning: seeking a quick, easy, and on the face of it, cheaper ‘solution’ for the council, rather than looking at what the best option might be for the individual.
As Alicia Wood, chief executive of the Housing and Support Alliance, pointed out, with the right housing and support, not only do people with learning disabilities get what they need and thrive, but that option is often more cost effective. If there is a return to the days of only moving people on in a crisis, there will be a greater cost to the public purse.
While I’m not denying that local authority commissioners are under huge pressure to make savings that should not stop them seeking the best option for individuals. It is about people’s lives and this should not be forgotten, among all the number crunching.
The progress made in recent years in getting people with learning disabilities into their own homes in the community must not be sacrificed by short-term thinking and by trying simply to balance the books. People with learning disabilities have the same aspirations as everyone else and they should not be denied the opportunity to live in their own home just because putting the package in place to achieve this may be more expensive than sending them to a residential home.
Whether this is achieved, as Mencap recommends, by a new national strategy for housing for people with learning disabilities, backed up by local plans, or another method, it is clear that something needs to be done, and soon.