In brief

Benefit rules to tighten, care staff don’t stay and a railway win. Saba Salman reports

Holding close: Flora and Dorcas

No action on long-term mental health detention

Campaigners have been voicing frustration at the government’s refusal to embrace measures to help free people from inpatient units.

A 2019 promise to modernise the Mental Health Act 1983 was ditched by exclusion from November’s King’s Speech.

Changes would have meant fewer people with a learning disability and/or autism would be held in mental health units. They can be detained despite having no mental health issues.

The government also declined to adopt recommendations in a report by Baroness Sheila Hollins.

She chaired the panel that examined independent care (education) and treatment reviews for people with a learning disability or autism
in inpatient settings, which called for limits on
long-term segregation.

Campaign group Rightful Lives said this gave “permission” for segregation to continue, which is “unfathomable when we know that care in the community is so much more cost effective and rights respecting”.

Laughing Boy play on stage from spring

A play based on the Justice for LB campaign will be performed this year.

Laughing Boy, based on activist and academic Sara Ryan’s book Justice for Laughing Boy, will be directed by campaigner, writer and occasional Community Living contributor Stephen Unwin.

The play, at London’s Jermyn Street Theatre in April then the Theatre Royal Bath, tells the story of Ryan’s son Connor Sparrowhawk, known as Laughing Boy.

After his preventable death in NHS care, his family’s demands for answers lead to an extraordinary campaign, uncovering “neglect and indifference that goes beyond Connor’s death to thousands of others”, as the play is described by Jermyn Street Theatre.

Unwin said: “I couldn’t be happier to be putting Connor Sparrowhawk centre stage, where he belongs.”

Medieval to modern integration

Community Living writer Simon Jarrett’s latest book is due to be published by Liverpool University Press in March.

In the book, A History of Disability in England: from the Medieval Period to the Present Day, he looks at the integrated lives of the medieval and early modern periods as well as the institutions of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Portrait exhibition celebrates relationships

Diverse families and friendships have been celebrated in a portrait exhibition (pictured above), with the aim of challenging the marginalisation experienced by those with additional needs.

The Living With exhibition from north London charity WAVE for Change (We’re All Valued Equally) displayed a range of specially commissioned images by photographer Kristina Varaksina at Alexandra Palace’s Creativity Pavilion in the autumn.

Varaksina’s photographs, like the one on this page of Flora and Dorcas, featured children and siblings from WAVE’s Challenge Group, in which parents provide peer support.

WAVE wants to raise awareness of the importance of creating more inclusive communities and mixed-ability places where everyone is valued equally.

The exhibition was funded by an award from Postcode Society Trust (a grant-giving charity funded entirely by players of People’s Postcode Lottery) and support from Alexandra Palace and the Peter Bailey Company.

News briefs

Four in 10 deaths avoidable

More than four in 10 (42%) deaths of people with learning disabilities in 2022 could have been prevented. This was slightly below the previous year’s figure of 49%, according to the latest NHS-funded Learning Disability Mortality Review (LeDeR) findings.

Cooking in the Commons

Six people with learning disabilities have won a 14-week House of Commons job placement through WorkFit, the Down’s Syndrome Association’s employment scheme. The plan is for the recruits, who are in catering positions, to gain permanent work after 14 weeks. Each has a WorkFit buddy. Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle welcomed the recruits at a Disability History Month event in November.

Extra cost of autistic child

Raising a child who is on the autism spectrum costs families more than £215 extra a month on everyday essentials to meet their children’s needs. The study, by Dr Chloe Blackwell at the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University, was published by disability charity Family Fund.

One million do care course

A million people have completed the first part of the Oliver McGowan Mandatory Training on Learning Disability and Autism, which enables health and care staff to provide better support. The second part of the scheme involves training given by learning disabled and/or autistic people. Oliver died after being given antipsychotic medication despite warnings it was unsuitable, and his mother Paula campaigned for the mandatory training.

What’s on our radar

Controversial plans to force disabled benefit claimants into work have met with outrage.

Claimants who do not engage with jobcentres to find work or fail to secure a job will have to take part in mandatory work experience or lose their benefits.

The measures, to come into force in 2025, were announced in the autumn statement. The aim is to get 200,000 more people into work.

“More people should be supported into work but we worry about government plans to force those who cannot work to look for jobs,” said Shaun Webster and Dominique Burley of Forum Central’s Learning Disability Network

“The plans assume someone can work from home, but challenges around this include access to digital technology and digital skills.”

Victoria Atkins, former financial secretary to the Treasury, became the fourth secretary of state for health and social care in two years. The department was again overlooked for funding, this time in the King’s Speech in November.

The social care workforce was described as a “leaky bucket” in the annual report from Skills for Care, the workforce development body for the sector. Almost 400,000 people left their roles in the year to March 2023, according to the organisation. The turnover rate was recorded at 28.3%.

There was, however, much-needed positive news when campaigners won their fight against rail industry plans to close most ticket offices in England. Widespread relief came when the government forced rail operators into a U-turn following huge criticism that proposals would make transport less accessible.