New disabled ‘tsar’ will stand up to ministers


The government’s new learning difficulties ‘tsar’ has pledged to challenge ministers if they fail to “deliver” the Valuing People Now (VPN) strategy.
Scott Watkin, who has a learning difficulty, was speaking on the day he started work as the new co-national director for learning disabilities. He will work alongside co-director Anne Williams on implementing the strategy over the next three years.
Watkin who said it was an “exciting role”, will work two days a week, and takes over from Nicola Smith, who he said had done a “really, really good job”.
One priority, he said, was to help deliver VPN’s targets on time and “make sure people’s lives change for the better”.
But he also wants to “make sure people and services are working in a personalised way”, and to improve advocacy and self-advocacy. He said he will use his experience in groups such as Isle of Wight People First to “strengthen self-advocacy nationally” and help groups access the funding they need.
He also said that day services were led by professionals instead of service-users, and there was much to be done to open up “new opportunities” in employment, with better “learning disability awareness” needed in the workplace.
Watkin also suggested he might challenge elements of the government’s welfare reforms because they define some disabled people as incapable of work.
He said: “There are a lot of people out there with complex needs who would like to have a job. We need to make sure these people are not put into a box and everybody has the same rights and choices and equal opportunities as anybody else.
“I think there will be talks with the Department for Work and Pensions and seeing how we can do this better and make change.”
Watkin said he was ready to challenge ministers if necessary. He added: “If I do not know the answers I will ask somebody else and I will keep on asking until I find that answer.
“If we don’t keep on asking the government departments for these answers, we are not going to get anywhere. I think I am ready to challenge people if we are not delivering VPN properly.”
He said he and Williams would work well together. “We need to work as a team and listen to each other, and I will challenge Anne and I know that Anne will challenge me.”
Watkin was born in London but lives with his wife on the Isle of Wight, where as co-chair of the learning disability partnership board he helped prepare for the increasing personalisation of services outlined in VPN.