Fear for essential support for people with a learning disability

Is it fair to pick on the most vulnerable people in our society?

Delivery of the learning disability strategy will no longer be led by a central programme team

A group of people with a learning disability

The Department of Health has confirmed that the central Valuing People Now team will cease to exist from the end of March. In a statement, a spokesperson said: “The strong foundation which has been established means that delivery [of ‘Valuing People Now’] will now no longer be led through the centrally funded programme team, which will cease from the end of the current financial year.”

That central team is made up of the national directors for learning disability, Anne Williams and Scott Watkin, along with national leads for areas such as health and housing. Anne took up her post in October 2008, shortly before the publication of ‘Valuing People Now’, the three-year learning disability strategy for England that set out to ‘deliver the vision of equality and transformed lives for everyone’. Scott was appointed in May 2009.

The news of the cut will prompt many to question whether the ‘Valuing People Now’ agenda will lose momentum – a year before it was due to end.

The government says that it is “committed to improving outcomes for people with learning disabilities and delivering the vision of ‘Valuing People Now'”, but emphasises the role of local leadership. “The programme team has worked hard in recent years to shift power from professionals to people with learning disabilities, to support real local leadership… local action is not dependent on [the central team] and will continue, through local partnership boards and through the cross-government programme board.”

Mark Goldring, Mencap’s chief executive, said: “We are disappointed that the government has decided to disband the Valuing People Now central team, as it has made an impressive contribution to the policy and practice that supports people with a learning disability. We are concerned that future arrangements to continue the ‘Valuing People Now’ strategy are not as robust as they should be.  We will now endeavour to support the government in building on this positive work in any way that we can.”

Anthea Sully, director of the Learning Disability Coalition, has serious concerns about the new approach: “Good support for people with a learning disability is already patchy, and this is only going to increase the postcode lottery.” She points out that this is exactly what ‘Valuing People Now’ sought to avoid.

“There’s a danger that the move to localism and the end of ring-fencing in council budgets means that essential support for people with a learning disability will not be seen as a priority. At the very least, ‘Valuing People Now’ should remain as a strong framework with delivery measured against it – otherwise it’s a strategy without teeth.”


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