Justice system ‘must listen’ on safeguarding


A leading disabled campaigner has welcomed government plans to bring in new laws on “safeguarding” adults, but has called for professionals to do far more to listen to people with learning difficulties.

His call came after care services minister Phil Hope announced plans to bring in new laws that would force every local area in England to have a safeguarding adults board (SAB).

The Department of Health (DH) later admitted that every council in England already worked with an SAB – made up of representatives of agencies involved in adult protection, such as police and social services – but putting them on a statutory footing would strengthen their ability to co-ordinate services.

Hope said there would also be a new cross-government group of ministers to “provide national leadership” on safeguarding.

The announcement was part of the government’s response to a consultation on its review of No Secrets, the existing adult protection guidance. It plans to publish new guidance to replace No Secrets this autumn.

Andrew Lee, director of the self-advocacy organisation People First, said it was vital that advice from people with learning difficulties was built into the safeguarding system.

And he said there should be someone with learning difficulties on every SAB.

Some charities had called for the government to give new powers to the police to enter someone’s home if they suspected a “vulnerable adult” was being “abused”.

But Lee said the criminal justice system was still failing people with learning difficulties, and the priority was a “proper training and education programme” before they could even consider new powers.

He said people with learning difficulties must be included on police bodies and the justice system must “show that you’re listening and taking good advice from people with learning difficulties” and the disability movement.

Lee said that the “abuse” that many people with learning difficulties call “bullying” is actually disability hate crime, and the criminal justice system must ensure more people are prosecuted for such offences against disabled people.

A DH spokesman said further legislation was “not a priority” and the government had been keen to reflect the views of many disabled people and user-led organisations who said they “did not want professionals to have any more power over their lives” and wanted to “be in control of their own decisions, including their safeguarding decisions”.

Both Voice UK, which supports victims of crime with learning difficulties, and the mental health charity Mind said the SAB announcement was a sign that the government was prioritising the issue of adult protection.

19 January 2010