Big Society, Disability and Civil Society Research

Website for ESRC research project 'Big Society? Disabled People with Learning Disabilities and Civil Society'

No voice unheard? Stop the cuts to advocacy services for people with learning disabilities

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On 26th February, 2015, we joined delegates at the North West Learning Disability Forum organized by the North West Training and Development Team and Pathways Associates at the Hilton Hotel in Blackpool.

This annual event is a unique opportunity for 120 self-advocates to come together and talk about the issues that affect their lives. Each year the conference invites a range of speakers including policy makers, commissioners and people working in universities.

As part of the Big Society project, we attended the conference last year to share information about the research.

This year, we went back to ask self-advocates what has changed over the last year?

Changes to self-advocacy

As part of the workshop we ran, we asked people to tell us about changes in self-advocacy in their local area.

The biggest change was the cut in the number of self-advocacy groups. Several delegates reported that their local group had closed down, and that support staff had gone part-time or been made redundant.

In one local area, a grant for advocacy had been given on the basis that the work the group did was based on health outcomes including activities such as boccia, line dancing and healthy eating sessions. Participants in the sessions are also being asked to pay £5 to attend the ‘advocacy’ group. This is a major departure from the aspirations of the self-advocacy movement to offer a space for people to speak up together for their rights. As the health focus was set by the funder, not by the self-advocates themselves, it seems difficult to describe such groups as ‘self-advocacy’ at all.

One self-advocate told us that he used to attend a weekly advocacy meeting but now the annual learning disability conference was the only advocacy event he could afford to attend.

As well as self-advocacy groups closing, people told us that some local authorities no longer have learning disability partnership boards to represent the views of people with learning disabilities.

No voice unheard, no right ignored

Only a week after the Blackpool event 6th March, the Department of Health launched No voice unheard, no rights ignored: a consultation for people with learning disabilities, autism and mental health conditions (https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/409816/Document.pdf)

The consultation declares “My right to be listened to and have my wishes acted upon” but, at the same time, back in the real world, self-advocacy organisations are disappearing across the country.

A key finding from our research is that self-advocacy matters to people with learning disabilities. It performs a vital role in ensuring that people can speak up and be heard. If this and future governments are really serious about “no voice unheard, no rights ignored” they will need to take urgent steps to help to re-build advocacy services for people with learning disabilities before they disappear completely.

You can respond to the #NoVoiceUnheard consultation here: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/strengthening-rights-for-people-with-learning-disabilities

ensuring that people can speak up and be heard. If this and future governments are really serious about “no voice unheard, no rights ignored” they will need to take urgent steps to re-building advocacy services for people with learning disabilities before they disappear completely.

You can respond to the #NoVoiceUnheard consultation here: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/strengthening-rights-for-people-with-learning-disabilities

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Author: Katherine RC

Katherine is Research Fellow in Disability Studies and Psychology at the Research Institute for Health and Social Change at Manchester Metropolitan University

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