Safeguarding Adults with Learning Disabilities — [Phil Wilson in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 17th October 2017.

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Photo of Catherine McKinnell Catherine McKinnell Labour, Newcastle upon Tyne North 2:30 pm, 17th October 2017

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered supporting and safeguarding adults with learning disabilities.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson, as we consider this hugely important issue. How we better support and safeguard adults with learning disabilities is a subject on which I have been seeking to secure a debate for some time, following the most appalling case involving a young man with learning disabilities from my constituency and his violent death back in June 2015.

The circumstances leading up to Lee Irving’s killing have been the subject of a safeguarding adults review which was published in June 2017, following the trial and sentencing of those responsible which finally concluded in December 2016. I will return to Lee’s case and the outcome of the review in more depth, but first I will briefly provide some context to the debate.

About 1.4 million to 1.5 million people with a learning disability are estimated to live in the UK, of whom some 350,000 have a severe learning disability. The charity Mencap, which describes itself as the leading voice of learning disability, replies to the question, “What is a learning disability?” by explaining:

“The answer is that it’s different for every person who has one. But there are some things that are true for everyone with a learning disability, and some common (and not so common) conditions that will mean you have a learning disability.”

Mencap goes on to state:

“A learning disability is a reduced intellectual ability and difficulty with everyday activities—for example household tasks, socialising or managing money—which affects someone for their whole life.

People with a learning disability tend to take longer to learn and may need support to develop new skills, understand complicated information and interact with other people.

The level of support someone needs depends on the individual.”

Importantly, Mencap concludes:

“It’s important to remember that with the right support, most people with a learning disability in the UK can lead independent lives.”

I saw that for myself in Dinnington in my constituency when I visited the home of the then 18-year-old Joe to hear about how he was being supported by the national charity United Response during the transition from childhood to adulthood. That involved providing Joe with tailored assistance in a supported housing setting to help master tasks such as managing money, basic cooking skills, cleaning the house, keeping up with the laundry, managing his coursework on his construction course at the local mainstream college, and being able to use public transport safely.

One of the concerns that Joe raised with me during that visit was his disappointment that he had been prevented from securing an apprenticeship because he was unable to achieve the required grade C in maths and English at GCSE. I am pleased, as one of the co-chairs of the all-party parliamentary group on apprenticeships, that that requirement has recently been lifted for people with learning disabilities, following a review conducted by Paul Maynard.

I am regularly lobbied by constituents with learning disabilities who, with the support and encouragement of the Newcastle-based charity Better Days, are able to send me easy-read letters about issues of concern, such as the lessons to be learned from the independent review of deaths of people with a learning disability conducted following the tragic death of Connor Sparrowhawk, or the Government’s decision no longer to provide funding to the National Forum of People with Learning Disabilities, which meant it closed in March 2017, having been operational since 2001.

There is a variety of good support out there, but we all know that many people with learning disabilities, and their families and carers, will face a series of enormous challenges, barriers and indeed discrimination throughout their lives, all of which inevitably puts a great deal of strain on family relationships. What do those barriers involve for people with learning disabilities?

Mencap highlights that children with special educational needs are twice as likely as other children to be bullied regularly; 40% of disabled children live in poverty; and 75% of GPs have received no training to help them treat people with a learning disability. The House of Commons Library has noted the evidence that people with a learning disability experience inequalities in healthcare and the fact that, on average, men with a learning disability die 13 years sooner and women with a learning disability 20 years sooner than those without learning disabilities.

Learning Disability Today has reported on a survey that found that almost two thirds of parents of children with learning disabilities said that they missed social engagements in the past year due to the fear of how other people would react to them; one in four young people with a learning disability had been bullied by members of the public at nightclubs or concerts; and only 30% of people would feel comfortable sitting next to someone with a mild learning disability at a show or a concert.