I am beginning to wonder if we’re in the midst of what we’ll look back on and regard as a time of great significance. Following on from Simon Stevens’ recent and very welcome announcement regarding closing ATUs, today we’re witnessing the release by the Learning Disabilities Alliance of “Quality Checking Government”, a poll of 2000 members of the learning disability community, half of whom have a learning disability themselves.
The LDA’s end-of-term report does not make for pleasant reading, but I don’t think any of us who work with people with learning disabilities are surprised. The themes – such as work, money and social inclusion – are familiar and with marks averaging just 2 out of 10 from the 2000 respondents one would reasonably predict a CQC rating of “inadequate”. Indeed, such a poor performance would see CQC putting the government into “special measures”.
However this is not the first government we’ve experienced that would be given such a low score. For generations, people with learning disabilities have been shunned, shut away in awful places, excluded from society and generally treated as second class citizens. So why are they so consistently overlooked? Why have so many politicians of every persuasion got so many policies so wrong?
Last night, Newsnight asked why so many policies aimed at improving life for pensioners are being announced in the run up to the election. The hypothesis is that older people are a sizeable proportion of the electorate, and they vote, and so parties must try to win that vote. Well, a million people in this country have a learning disability – with their families they represent about 10% of the electorate. That’s a lot of potential voters!
But, our research in 2012 found that just 10% of people with learning disabilities voted in their last election. It’s worth considering if many more people with a learning disability voted how different things might be. That’s why Dimensions, along with Mencap and United Response, have been leading a number of campaigns aimed at encouraging people with learning disabilities and their families to vote on May 7th.
I hope that “Quality Checking Government” is taken seriously. It deserves to be, as it provides a really important baseline. In future years the learning disability community can use this report to judge if progress has been made – and then they will be able to hold politicians to account via the ballot box.
And that’s why I’m wondering if the launch of “Quality Checking Government” today may be one of those significant moments we’ll look back on. The learning disability community may be about to find its voice. But no vote, no influence. Pass it on.