Jan Walmsley: elections offer an opportunity to improve lives

It took just one senior politician to hear the message for the groundbreaking Valuing People policy to appear. Here are some issues to raise with the new government

Scott Watkin

It’s now over 20 years since the white paper Valuing People gave everyone hope of a better life for people with learning disabilities, with its principles of rights, independence, choice and inclusion.

That groundbreaking policy lapsed in 2012 and, in England, nothing has yet replaced it.

Since we lost the National Forum of People with Learning Disabilities in 2017, there has been no direct representation of people with learning disabilities and their families in policy circles.

The Good Lives Manifesto created by Learning Disability England (LDE) members could be about to change that if efforts to get politicians to listen pay off.

Those attending LDE’s conference this year – 110 members, both individuals and organisations, and 400 other delegates – shaped the manifesto. It is a series of “big asks” for us all to put to politicians campaigning in local and general elections.

LDE is asking all candidates to sign up to these asks:

  • Be a champion for the rights of all people with learning disabilities, including those from minority ethnic communities and with high support needs
  • Reform social care to uphold the rights of people with learning disabilities and their families
  • Fair pay for people who work in social care
  • Health services that improve health and life expectancy for people with learning disabilities
  • Help people with learning disabilities get paid work
  • Make sure people with learning disabilities have the same access to housing options as everyone else
  • Make this an accessible general election.

Each ask is supported by a series of steps. So the ask to be a champion of rights means legislating to incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into UK law.

Each ask builds on existing work by many organisations. The champion of rights ask builds on the Disabled People’s Manifesto and Changing Our Lives’ Small Margins report on the issues facing people from minority ethnic communities.

Where members ask for more topics to be added, such as transport, LDE encourages them to link to existing campaigns such Transport for All.

Pledge cards and a briefing with background information and statistics are available to make lobbying candidates as easy as possible. No one can say they don’t know what to say when they meet people standing for election.

LDE member Scott Watkin supports the manifesto: “Good Lives is so important for us as we are seen to be forgotten people. Good Lives gives ideas to us all to support people to have a good life whether its health employment or living in our own home and to speak up so we can have a better quality of life.”

Now it’s down to us as citizens to use the carefully co-produced manifesto to get the issues facing people with learning disabilities and their families higher up the political agenda.

Never forget, it took just one senior member of Tony Blair’s 1997 government to hear the message for Valuing People to see the light of day. Let’s make it happen again. We could be within touching distance of a policy for learning disability we can all sign up to.