Self-advocacy organisations must look for new sources of funding to avoid the fate of other groups that have had to close due to spending cuts, according to a leading consultative body of disabled people.
The National Forum of People with Learning Difficulties spoke out as it published a new guide aimed at ensuring the survival of self-advocacy organisations.
The Staying Strong guide brings together the experience of more than 80 self-advocacy groups – in which people with learning difficulties come together to speak up for themselves – across England.
The guide, commissioned by the government’s Office of the National Director for Learning Disabilities, says there are hundreds of groups working locally, regionally and nationally to make sure people with learning difficulties “are treated fairly and their voice are heard”.
Michael Ratcliffe, co-chair of the forum, said: “We cannot pretend we have given self-advocacy groups all the answers, but we hope we have provided lots of new ideas, information to consider, and funding advice, which will hopefully help them survive in the current financial climate.”
He added: “It is vital we have strong independent advocacy to ensure people with learning disabilities have a voice within society, as tragic things have occurred when they have not had access to advocacy services.”
The forum has heard of self-advocacy groups being forced to close due to funding problems in the last year, although the scale of the problem is not yet known.
The guide contains advice and examples of how groups have raised funds, cut costs and formed new partnerships to ensure their survival.
Among the things such groups do well, the guide says, are: research and training; challenging services about cuts and charges; telling other people about their work; and helping members gain skills and jobs.
Its advice for self-advocacy groups includes being clear about what they do and why they do it, and the importance of planning for the future, being user-led, not being “pushed around by councils”, and working with other groups.
The forum’s job is to keep the government updated on progress with its learning difficulties strategy, Valuing People Now.
To download the guide, visit: www.nationalforum.co.uk
27 January 2011