From patients to invisible citizens
Tuesday 23 September 2014

How support for people with learning disabilities still has a long way to go

The social care system needs to be turned on its head to provide better support and better value for money.

That's the conclusion of Lucy Hurst-Brown, Chief Executive of award-winning learning disability charity Brandon Trust and deputy chair of VODG (Voluntary Organisations Disability Group), in a collection of essays published at the Labour Party Conference today (Tuesday, 23 September) by think-tank Demos in partnership with VODG.

In Brandon Trust's chapter Lucy argues the current system of allocating support according to need, known as the deficiency model, is counterproductive and not cost effective. Instead, an 'asset-based approach' must be adopted, directing resources towards building on what people can do and what is already available to them.

Brandon Trust was established 20 years ago with a clear remit to seize the opportunity offered by Care in the Community by supporting people with learning disabilities, many of whom recently 'freed' from institutions, to live in the community.

The charity now supports more than 1,300 people across the South of England to do just that, but Chief Executive Lucy Hurst-Brown says the broader societal shift from institution to integration is far from complete.

In her essay entitled From Patients to Invisible Citizens, she says:

"People with learning disabilities have consistently been perceived and treated as needy and passive recipients of services that only experts know how to design and deliver.

"An entire industry comprised of government departments, academic institutions, charities, philanthropic trusts, think tanks, social enterprises, private companies, social landlords and social businesses have been built and are sustained on the premise that people with learning disabilities are in need. Indeed, this 'deficiency model' dictates that the more people with learning disabilities can’t do, the more the organisations will receive in funding.

"But an ‘asset-based’ approach works from the principle that every single person has capacities, abilities and gifts. Support can be shaped around what people can do, rather than what they can’t. Taking this approach means resources will be far more effective if they’re used to help people contribute to their own community, often representing much greater value for money.

"Organisations like Brandon Trust must make it our mission to get out of the way of the people we support. Ultimately we need to be looking to do ourselves out of a job, because the measure of our success should be the level to which people are integrated into their community. Of course, people have very different levels of challenges and support requirements, but the more they are part of an active community and social network, the less their demand for support will be."

The essay collection, titled The Future of Disability, is published by Demos and VODG and can be downloaded from www.demos.co.uk/project/the-future-of-disability/