Independant Living

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.

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