Learning Disability Today

I attended the Learning Disability Today 10th annual exhibition and conference at the Business Design Centre in London today. As ever it is an impressive event with all manner of service providers showing off their services to potential users and their families and carers. There is a great atmosphere and the colourful, bustling stands offer a huge variety of services and imaginative new offers. There is an array of accessible literature and materials and on nearly every stand people with learning disabilities are there as part of the team to explain what is on offer.

Accompanying the exhibition are seminars. I attended the keynote address by the Minister for Care services, Paul Burstow and a panel discussion on the implications of the CSR for people with learning disability. The Minister seemed like a genuine bloke but couldn’t quite persuade the audience that the extra £2 billion for social care would offset cuts in other benefits. For a start the money isn’t ring fenced so LD services will be competing with social care for older people. The Minister emphasised the continuation of the policy of giving everyone who is eligible a personal budget and on the whole this was welcomed by the people I spoke to. However the reality appears to be that this is being seen (by local authorities) as an opportunity to reduce the allocations to individuals as part of the drive to save money – or rather make the same money go further..

The panel which included the Director of Operations from the Home Farm Trust – Hilary Crowhurst and Mencap CEO Mark Goldring talked about the need for fundamental changes to services if quality is to be maintained at the same time as resources are constrained and demand continues to grow. Assistive or personal technology is one aspect of this and examples were given of savings of the order of £16,000 if use of technology could remove the need for sleep-ins or waking nights or could perhaps enable a person with learning disability to have their home to themselves for perhaps 3 hours during the day. The emphasis was, however, on using technology to support independence and privacy, rather than primarily to cut cost.

Panel members felt that providers would have to work more imaginatively with partners including volunteers, family and carers to build cost effective tailored services around individuals. If the Big Society materialises then this strategy could ensure that individuals continue to get the support they need and further improvements are possible. The question is will it?

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