This section will help you get more information on the different things that we do and more about our organisation
The Norah Fry Trust did some research a few years ago into what life was like for people with learning disabilities who were gay or lesbian.
It found that lots of them were very lonely. They didn’t know many people who were also gay and lesbian and didn’t have people they could speak to.
Even when people had support staff in place, a lot of staff didn’t really understand what it was like for them. While some staff were really good, others just didn’t think people with learning disabilities could be gay or lesbians.
A new group has been set up in Edinburgh to help people with learning disabilities.
The Social Circle is a group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, and those questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity, to build friendships and socialise in a safe environment. It meets on a Thursday afternoon 2-4pm on a monthly basis. Our planned activities have an emphasis on socialising and building friendship, with some time also for sharing experiences of being LGBT and having a learning disability.
People come from all over Scotland to take part.
Private care company Castlebeck which owned the Winterbourne View hospital, where a BBC documentary exposed the abuse and neglect of people with learning disabilities nearly two years ago, has gone into administration. Castlebeck owns three residential homes and one hospital in Scotland located in Dundee, Dunblane and Lockerbie.
Things that we haven’t covered elsewhere in this document include:
1. Providing support to help people with learning disabilities and their families to manage the changes to welfare benefits that are due to start in 2013. There are two important areas here. First benefit money will be paid every month. Everybody will have to budget to manage this but it will be hard for many people who are used to getting money every fortnight and sometimes every week. There should be more help and training for people with learning disabilities to be better at budgeting. Secondly there will be a preference to make applications online. But computer applications are difficult for many people with learning disabilities. In our research we found that very few people found using computers easy. We would like to be able to make phone or written applications. But nonetheless for the start of the new benefits we think that there should be more help and advice for people with learning disabilities to fill in applications. It will be much easier for people if things are right first time rather than having to appeal. Both types of support would be temporary to help people manage the changes.
2. Tackling disability hate crime is very important to many people with learning disabilities. There is still a lot of experience that people have of bullying and harassment. Figures from the Scottish Government show low levels of both reporting of such crimes and of successful prosecutions of disability related hate crime compared to other forms of hate crime. The research carried out for the Same As You review reflected this problem with people being upset to talk about this problem.
We think there should be a real attempt to implement the existing law on this. Such attitudes will take longer to remove but a firm approach to Disability Hate Crime linked to positive changes in people’s lives and local communities can help.
Implementing the Hate Crime legislation is not just about punishing the offenders it will be sending a wider message to the community that this behaviour is not acceptable. Many hate crimes take place in public places with other people present. Such bystanders often don’t take part but also do little to stop this as they fail to realise the seriousness of what is happening. The more effective prosecution of individuals and publicising of convictions will lead to more people being willing to step in. The successful use of legislation can “nudge” others into taking action to protect individuals far more effectively than the criminal process can.
3. We think that there is a need to address the needs of people with learning disabilities within the criminal justice system. There have been a number of attempts at this over the last ten years but problems persist. Many people with learning disabilities are unrecognised within the criminal justice system. One estimate is that 1,000 Scottish prisoners have a learning disability or are on the border line. Only 3 prisons have a specialist learning disability service – Polmont, Greenock and Cortonvale. In Barlinnie, 80 prisoners have “paperwork” identifying them as having a learning disability but it is possible that twice as many are undiagnosed or have no paperwork. A rollout of simple assessment tools such as the Hayes Ability Screening Index, which gives a quick indication of a person’s IQ helps to identify those with a learning disability. Such prisoners can then receive additional input and are linked with social work agencies and voluntary organisations. This can help to reduce reoffending by up to 20% saving lots of money.
Perhaps the most successful supported employment services in Scotland remains the North Lanarkshire team. Funded directly by the council, this is an example of something that councils’ can do well. Undoubtedly this team benefited by being led by a strong and charismatic champion of employment but it drew much of its strength from its links to other parts of the council workforce and the cooperation it could draw upon from other public, private and voluntary organisations. Having a large staff team, the service is able to both support existing employees and to find jobs for new people coming forward. Working with Project Search, it has worked to help young people to get the experience they need to help jobs.
If there was an easier solution than investing in staff and making sure that the service has the respect of employers, we are sure someone else would have found this. But services like North Lanarkshire have been on their own over the last ten years. Most of the voluntary organisations providing supported employment have hung on over the last ten years but have often been forced to respond to changes in funding opportunities to manage this.
Over the last ten years the proportion of people in employment has grown from about 7% to 9% (Esay 2012). If supported employment remains at the margin of employment services, it is because funding for this services remains on the margin of spending priorities for council and for government.
This should be addressed as a matter of urgency because for while we have concerns over many of the Welfare Benefit reforms, the initial picture for Universal Credit is a positive one for supporting people into work. It is likely that the mainstream use of this benefit to bridge the transition into employment will also help people with learning disabilities. It would be a failure of any new policy is this opportunity was not seized with both hands.
Some specific matters will help as well:
• Greater investment in training all stakeholders in how to help someone to find and keep a job including the person, families, supported employment staff and personal assistants/ support workers and classroom assistants
• Any new policy should put more emphasis on paid employment whether in open or sheltered placements as opposed to voluntary work, work experience and training for work.
• In some ways work with employers at a strategic level will improve if there is a stronger emphasis from local councils and government but there should also be local efforts to encourage and show employers how to employ people with learning difficulties and individuals on the autistic spectrum.
• There should be a recognition that national standards such as the National Occupational Standards can ensure that supported employment agencies meet the needs of people with learning disabilities better. There should be a system of national monitoring of Support Agencies – this could be Self Regulation through a body like SUSE – the Scottish Union for Support Employment.
• One of the lessons of Project Search is that working with young people to gain job experience in real workplaces helps them gain both general and particular job skills. As a result, early intervention like this should be prioritised to ensure that people can access paid employment at the earliest opportunity
• There needs to be better training for and flexibility within mainstream employability services to ensure that they can provide adequate support for people with learning difficulties and individuals on the autistic spectrum.
• There needs to be a clear statement in any new policy that people with learning disabilities have the right to live as independently as they wish. This should be a free choice based on real alternatives. Currently access to an independent living situation is mediated through the Eligibility Criteria of a local council by being at either “Critical” or “Substantial” risk in their current living arrangements and by the level of resources that a local authority has decided to make available.
We live in a time of cuts and “austerity” without a rebalance of the rights of the citizen with that of the state then much of what people believe to be their support to live independently may vanish. For example, in some areas of the country over the last two years, there has been a move towards “greater sharing of support” in the name of public efficiency. People who used to get 1:1 support are now buddying up with others to share staff. Even worse, Iain Gray MSP, the minister responsible for the Same As You wrote last year about how Lothian Health Board was working on a new strategy that “features a model the sector would recognise as ‘core and cluster’. To my eye, it looks like a return to group living. That would be a backward step. It is cost-cutting dressed up in fancy language, but it is also a retreat from an ideal, the powerfully optimistic, and visionary belief that, with support, every Scot can live free and independently whatever their disability.” (The Scotsman, Friday December 30th 2011)
• If we want to ensure that people with learning disabilities are able to live independently then we need to return to the question about who decides what is and what is not good practice. This can not be done in a preamble to a bill or a single statement. It requires a continual intervention into the public debate about what is good practice, how do different demands on public bodies coincide and how to do we strike a balance. More than ever we need a strong central voice, a strong development agency that engages with the issues that face people with learning disabilities and brings together the people that need to wrestle with these decisions.
There are also a number of important steps that could support independent living.
• Support for people with learning disabilities living at home with their families to plan for a time that they will live away from them. Such plans will cover both what future arrangements will be and what steps can be taken now to achieve that.
• Informed commissioning of new services to meet Self Directed Support demand for support. This will include the use of “Seed Finance” to get such services off the ground. Commissioning needs to be directive is specifying the types and ranges of services to be “seeded”.
• Less variation in the development of self-directed support throughout Scotland with some agreement on the basics of Assessment, Resource Allocation and Outcome Planning.
• Real efforts to tackle the blight of loneliness and isolation that afflicts far too many people with learning disabilities. This should include new forms of friendship support, transport to meet friends and social skills training.
• The needs to further thought to the training and support of support workers & personal assistants to ensure that they promote maximum independence for people they support. A national training strategy and integration of SVQs with independent training of staff by support providers.
• There should also be more emphasis should be placed on “preventative” services. The failure of the Self Directed Support Bill to make support for carers a “duty” rather than a “power” missed an opportunity to make support people in their current situation. Many people with learning disabilities have an active and “independent” live when they live at home with their families in communities that they have known all their lives. A small amount of support , including things such as telecare can make sure that families can continue to care and maintain people where they are. This type of support must be available to those who do not qualify under current eligibility criteria.