Saba Salman: This is a call to arms – never an admission of defeat

Equality, inclusion, rights and championing a life in the community – our founding principles since this magazine was launched 35 years ago.

To acknowledge our anniversary, and in my first issue as editor, we ask what community living now means to people with learning disabilities, their families, support staff and allies. Although a snapshot, these views reflect the hard-won achievements so far – and what we still need to fight for.

Much has undermined our sense of community from Brexit to social care cuts, austerity and benefits reform, the last of which Neil Carpenter excoriates. The catalogue of care and abuse scandals has also weakened our sense of belonging.

On top of being hardest hit by Covid, as Gary Bourlet of Learning Disability England points out, people with learning disabilities now face the cost of living crisis. Government help is welcome but minimal, as Charlie Callanan explains.

The harsh backdrop to all this is the plan to reform the Human Rights Act.

As Joe Powell of self-advocacy organisation All Wales People First told me: “A cacophony of political and socioeconomic crises has exacerbated the already daunting challenges facing those fighting for social justice.”

However, his words are a call to arms – not an admission of defeat.

Much has undermined our sense of community, from Brexit to social care cuts, austerity and benefits reform. The catalogue of care and abuse scandals has also weakened our sense of belonging

Fighting for the right support is what drove Manni Coe when his brother Reuben’s mental health problems spiralled during the pandemic.

He gives a powerful exploration of brotherhood and belonging, accompanied by Reuben’s bold drawings.

Why people are still being denied a life in the community is the subject of Seán Kelly’s interview with Sir Norman Lamb, the former Liberal Democrat MP and care minister who wrote the foreword to Transforming Care a decade ago.

Transforming Care, the government’s response to the abuse at Winterbourne View, has failed to live up to its promise. Many people remain locked away, as Ben McCay at self-advocacy organisation My Life My Choice reminds us. He explains why his charity pulled out of the official care and treatment review programme, which aims to move people out of places like Winterbourne, and sets out what must happen next.

Belonging in a bigger world

As well as highlighting the challenges, we feature solutions that need to be replicated.

Alicia Woods of Beyond Words calls for current affairs to be made more accessible. If you are not included in conversations about the world you live in, how can you belong in your community? Beyond Words recently created a free excerpt from its book When Someone Dies to help people talk about the Queen’s death.

We also feature People First Keighley and Craven’s podcast as a platform to raise awareness about issues that affect people with learning disabilities.

This issue introduces two new columnists, academic Professor Chris Hatton and self-advocate Shalim Ali. Both approach, in different ways, the importance of money matters, security and independence, and give hopeful insights.

Much of this issue was commissioned with my predecessor Simon Jarrett. I’m delighted he is staying with us – read his reviews here. Over the coming months, you might notice changes in this magazine. Our aim is to stay true to our goals and reinforce our campaigning ethos while bringing Community Living to a wider audience.

Our growing network of readers, contributors and supporters help us highlight issues – good and bad – and ensure we reflect both the aspirations and the concerns of our broad, vibrant, diverse, forward-thinking and determined learning disability movement.

Saba Salman