Serious concerns have been raised about the future of the UK’s self-advocacy movement, with four-fifths of organisations under threat of closure, according to a leading disabled activist.
Andrew Lee, director of People First (Self Advocacy), said that 80 per cent of his organisation’s members could be forced to close, or had already done so, because of cuts to their funding by local authorities.
His charity, the country’s leading self-advocacy organisation, is itself concerned about its future, he said.
Because of council funding cuts, the number of People First’s members – all local self-advocacy organisations across the UK – has dropped from 120 to 97.
Lee said the funding cuts raised a real risk for the future of the self-advocacy movement.
He added: “I have seen the shock on people’s faces of knowing that self-advocacy groups they have known for years have closed and the realisation that their group could be next.”
He spoke out as a new report, Social Care – the continuing crisis, provided new evidence that many local authorities are further restricting access to support for disabled people.
The report was published by the Learning Disability Coalition, whose members include People First (Self Advocacy), The National Forum for People with Learning Difficulties, Mencap and the National Autistic Society.
Of 61 councils in England that responded to a coalition survey, 36 per cent said they had increased charges for services for people with learning difficulties or had consulted on doing this as a result of government spending cuts, while 21 per cent had raised their eligibility criteria or consulted on doing so, and 20 per cent were cutting services for adults with learning difficulties.
Of 342 people with learning difficulties and their families and carers who took part in the coalition’s online survey, 20 per cent had been told their hours of support would be cut, while 19 per cent had been told their funding would be reduced.
Lee said he was “horrified” by the results of the surveys and believed the impact of the cuts on people with learning difficulties would take 15 years to “put right”.
He said: “I think it will take 15 years to get to where the support structures for people with learning difficulties were before the cuts. Any politician that says anything different is living in cloud cuckoo land.
“People are really, really worried about losing their support packages that help them to do the basic things in life that people without disabilities take for granted every single day.
“I am concerned about the damage it will do to people who have aspirations to work and to live independently.”
He said he did not believe that jobs lost from disabled people’s organisations and the public sector would be replaced by new jobs for people with learning difficulties in the private sector.
He said: “I am very, very sceptical about the private sector’s willingness or ability to actively take on disabled people that want to work.”
16 March 2011