It is Learning Disability week and a great opportunity to raise awareness of the needs of those who have learning disabilities especially as we await the forthcoming White Paper and draft social care bill.
Given the wider debate on social care, particularly around who pays for care it is easy to forget that social care does not solely focus on the elderly and that people with learning disabilities use and need social care services. These services are not exclusively care home services but a wide range of services that have a different focus from elderly care and are vital in helping people live as independently as possible.
The exact number of people with learning disabilities in the UK is not known but what is known is that the numbers of people accessing those services is increasing.
Over the last few years there has been a very small drop in the overall numbers of people accessing council funded services but in those with learning disabilities the number has increased, and quite dramatically with an increase of around 10%. At whilst, relatively speaking, those with learning disabilities are a small percentage of the number of overall numbers of people receiving care services, those services are required over many more years and have an impact on social care provision and funding. Research suggests that about 16% of the total social care budget goes toward learning disability services.
In addition people with learning disabilities are living longer and the rate of longevity is rising faster than that of the general population. Between 2005 and 2010 the numbers of people with learning disabilities over that age of 65 increased by just under 20%. With ageing comes increased need for social care and health services that have to be acknowledged by those on high.
There is, quite rightly, a high focus on dementia and the needs of the elderly but there also needs to be a recognition that learning disability services are different, requiring a care workforce with a different set of skills, knowledge and training that focuses on the different challenges faced by those with learning disabilities.
There needs to be a recognition that ‘Learning Disability’ is a wide ranging catch-all term that encompasses a number of different conditions (and a number of undiagnosed ones) and therefore the number of services needed to meet the needs of the individuals has to be greater than any other aspect of social care.
With the focus on funding elderly care there is a danger that the needs of those with learning disabilities will be passed over by the Government yet the needs of people with learning disabilities are as important as any other group requiring social care services.
Ministers need to be aware of the issues facing learning disability services and ensure that the White Paper and draft Bill reflect those needs.