New alliance ‘will hold political parties to account’


newslatestLeading figures in the self-advocacy movement hope that a new campaigning alliance will help to hold political parties and the government to account in the run-up to the next election.

Learning Disability Alliance England will be launched in Manchester later this month.

It says it will be the first “effective” alliance that brings together organisations run by and for people with learning difficulties.

Crucially, the way LDAE has been set up means that people with learning difficulties have a veto over its decisions, and cannot be outvoted by people without learning difficulties.

It plans to fill the campaigning void left by charities that its members believe are now afraid to express their opposition to damaging government disability policies, because of measures introduced through the coalition’s new Lobbying Act.

The alliance aims to review all government policies that affect people with learning difficulties; challenge “bad laws and policies”; and encourage people to vote in next May’s general election.

It also plans to award each political party a mark out of 10 for its policies in the run-up to the election.

Gary Bourlet, co-development lead for People First England, and a veteran of the self-advocacy movement, said the alliance would “help fight against injustice and create a loud, strong voice”.

He hopes it will campaign in the run-up to the general election against cuts in learning difficulty services and social security, “making sure that people with learning difficulties maintain their human rights and civil rights, keeping the Human Rights Act intact”, and “making sure self-advocacy groups are well funded by the government but still keeping their independence”.

Other areas he wants it to focus on include: “closing all types of institutions and asylums”, accessible housing and independent living, disability hate crime, an end to benefit sanctions, legal aid, increasing the number of people with learning difficulties in employment, promoting the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and carrying out “quality checking” of central government and local authorities by people with learning difficulties.

Self-advocate Simon Cramp added: “We need to use this new alliance – LDA England – to create a new power base. We have talent that money can’t buy.

“We need to change the political landscape; use this new voice; write to select committees; speak at events and make our voice heard; challenge political parties to produce manifestos that are clear and accessible and get laws changed.”

Wendy Perez, another self-advocate who played a part in setting up LDAE, said: “There are lots of the people who claim to help; but they don’t.

“They just follow the easy options – they don’t look outside the box. They meet their targets; but they are not really helping.

“To change this we have to be leaders; we have to speak out and say what we want; we have to be trouble-makers; we have to go to the top; we have to threaten them; we have to follow our dreams and not give up.”

The alliance started with four main groups: the National Forum of People with Learning Disabilities, which represents self-advocacy groups; the National Valuing Families Forum; the Association for Real Change, representing 150 service-providers; and the Housing and Support Alliance, which represents 150 service- and housing-providers.

But now another 90 organisations and more than 1,200 individuals have also joined the campaign.

Dr Simon Duffy, director of The Centre for Welfare Reform and acting coordinator of the campaign, said the alliance “gives everyone the chance to join together and it can help everyone be braver in challenging injustice”.

He said: “We have never seen things go backwards so fast.

“In the past we could rely on the media, big charities and academics to challenge bad policies.

“But today this seems to be a big problem and many good people are now too nervous to speak out.”

5 November 2014