Study highlights significant impacts of austerity for those with learning disabilities

14 Sep 2020

Findings from a major new study show that over 40 per cent of people with learning disabilities lost care and support over the past decade, as a result of cuts to social care funding.

The study, led by Professor Rachel Forrester-Jones of the University of Bath, with colleagues from the University of Kent, analysed the impact of austerity on the lives of people with learning disabilities. It highlights 'significant challenges' in terms of cuts to services and support which arose for those with learning disabilities since 2008.

The research team included Rachel Harrison, Senior Lecturer in Health and Social Care, based in the University of Winchester's Department of Interprofessional Studies, who is a PhD student at the University of Kent. The University of Winchester also undertook part of the Patient and Public Involvement study which informed the subsequent research project.

Mapping the experiences of cuts to services introduced in 2008 for 150 people with learning disabilities the research team found:

  • 42 per cent reported they had lost care
  • 14 per cent reported that their care had changed - but not reduced
  • 36 per cent reported their care had stayed the same
  • 7 per cent said their care had improved.

Most significantly, they found that those who had lost care were engaging in significantly fewer activities. These individuals scored lower on the Quality of Life index, which measures individual wellbeing, and had significantly lower self-esteem. Three quarters (74.8 per cent) of the sample also scored highly for having 'clinically significant' anxiety.

Overall those who had lost care reported a reduction in daily activities - experienced particularly when day centres closed. They also reported an increased likelihood of feeling lonely or bored as well as a general loss of aspirations for their future.

Having studied the experiences of individuals from across England, the researchers found that there was no significant difference between regions, suggesting that austerity has been a leveller putting all people with a learning disability in a 'precarious situation.'

Research lead, Professor Rachel Forrester-Jones, Director of the Centre for the Analysis of Social Policy at the University of Bath (former Director of the Tizard Centre), explains: "The Care Act 2014 enshrines support to help people with complex needs, including those with learning disabilities. But our research highlights the clear and very significant challenges that stand in their way in terms of reduced access to services and support as a direct result of austerity.

"Cuts to services right across the country have had a significant negative impact on the lives of many people interviewed, which has long-term consequences for individuals, their families and their futures.

"Improvements in social care support are needed. But we are starting from after 10 years of reductions in local services, with additional challenges from the impact of COVID-19 which would need to be addressed to support local authorities to fulfil their legal duties under the Care Act 2014. This will take vast amounts of resources and our study has shown that the scale of the challenge cannot be under-estimated."

Rachel Harrison said: "This research provides evidence which demonstrates that people with intellectual disabilities are impacted by austerity measures, resulting in cuts and changes to their care, their services and their benefits. A change in value-base towards one which actively respects and values the lives of people with intellectual disabilities and which creates opportunities for developing meaningful social networks is essential. Listening to the voices and experiences of people with intellectual disabilities is vital if we are to work together to make positive changes to systems, policy and practice."

Professor Glynis Murphy from University of Kent's Tizard Centre added: "Removing even small amounts of support can make the most enormous difference to people's quality of life. It is important to recognise how austerity has affected the most vulnerable in our communities."

The full report - which was funded by the NIHR School of Social Care Research - is available online here: Becoming less eligible? Intellectual disability services in the age of austerity.

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