There is lots wrong with ‘The Plan’ to achieve what the government failed to in securing the release of people with learning disabilities from Assessment and Treatment Units, not least the self regarding way it was announced by Sir Stephen Bubb. The lack of involvement of people with learning disabilities and their families in the decision to hand this role to voluntary sector organisations under the ACEVO umbrella mimics the very problems which have led us to this point – people being regarded as objects to be ‘done to’ not as active rights-holding citizens with unique insights, ideas and a major contribution to make to solving this challenge.
The way this came about suggests panic in the upper echelons of government and the NHS and a desire to get this ever more hot potato off the desks of Norman Lamb and Simon Stevens. Panic does not however make for sensible answers. Several hundred fewer people in ATU’s by a specified date does not mean several hundred people with learning disabilities and their families with the support they require to live successfully in the community. Yes it is of course desirable to secure people’s release from ATU’s at the earliest opportunity, but that could be done without providing any viable alternatives and it is the creation of these rights-respecting alternatives that should be the mark of success. The mention of ‘investing in buildings’ and of 10 year contracts in Bubb’s blog should raise major alarm bells sounding as it does like the Hungarian model of de-institutionalisation’ not a genuine attempt to foster inclusion.
The reality is that neither Stephen Bubb’s breakfast club or people with learning disabilities and their advocates can make this happen on their own. In a contrite follow up blogpost Bubb has said he recognises this, acknowledging the importance of ensuring ‘the voice of the client, carers and families are heard’ but the proposals he sets out still suggest a passive role.
What is required is a genuine partnership of a type all too rare: people with learning disabilities employed in key roles by the organisations commissioning community based solutions, mechanisms such as integrated personal budgets and the support to direct and manage them which allow individuals and families to commission their own support, peer support for those moving from institutions back into the community and their families and for people with learning disabilities and their families to have a seat around the table at the breakfast meetings where such plans are hatched.
In short, what is required is a partnership of equals.