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SWT highlights learning disability crisis

02 December 2022 : Council news, Community

The Leader of Somerset West and Taunton (SWT) Council has written to local MPs and counterparts across the county following a declaration of a districtwide Learning Disability Emergency.

A motion to declare an emergency was agreed at SWT’s Full Council meeting in September following distressing data published in an NHS-backed report aimed at improving care, reducing health inequalities and preventing early deaths for people with learning disabilities and autism.

The Learning from Lives and Deaths - people with a learning disability and autistic people (LeDeR) Annual Report 2021, shows few improvements in social, health and life expectancy outcomes and significant areas of stagnation and regression. Figures relating to the Covid pandemic are particularly bleak.

Data from LeDeR and other sources indicate that people born with learning disabilities in England today are likely to be deprived of opportunity and long-life expectancy, whilst living in fear and poverty. They include:

  • On average, males with a learning disability die 22 years younger than males in the general population, and females 26 years younger than females in the general population.
  • Over 50% of people with a learning disability are likely to be in poverty when they die.
  • In 2020-21, just 5.1% of adults with learning disabilities aged 18-64 and known to Councils responsible for Adult Social Services were in paid employment.
  • 9 out of 10 people with learning disabilities have been a victim of hate crime and/or harassment.
  • Covid death rates among people with learning disabilities were between four and six times higher than the general population. The death rate for people aged 18 to 34 with learning disabilities was 30 times higher than the rate in the same age group without disabilities.
  • 6 out of 10 people with learning disabilities die before they are 65, compared to 1 in 10 among the general population.
  • 49% of deaths were rated as "avoidable" for people with a learning disability. This compares to 22% for the general population.

In her letter, SWT’s Leader Cllr Federica Smith-Roberts, urged the Leaders of the other Somerset councils along with MP for Taunton Deane, Rebecca Pow and MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset, Ian Liddell-Grainger, to note the data highlighted in the LeDeR report and to raise awareness of an adopted Communication Bill of Rights included in the motion put forth at September’s Full Council.

The Communication Bill of Rights was initiated by the National Joint Committee for the Communication Needs of Persons With Severe Disabilities (NJC) and has since been adopted by organisations around the world. It recognises the interconnectivity between social and health outcomes, and particularly the link between improved communication and life opportunities.

To address an apparent lack of adequate conveniences for severely disabled residents and visitors, a further action arising from September’s meeting secured agreement to bring forward the delivery of a functioning Changing Places toilet proposed for Tower Street, Taunton, by the end of March 2023.

Changing Places toilets are larger accessible toilets for people who are severely impaired or greatly limited by a physical, mental, cognitive or developmental condition. They include equipment such as hoists, curtains, adult-sized changing benches and space for carers.

While the Changing Places Toilets at the Albemarle Centre in Taunton and Discovery's care and support services hub at the Beach hotel in Minehead are nearing completion, both of which will have some level of public access, there remains a need for good, accessible facilities at the heart of both towns.

Following a successful joint application with Minehead Town Council, SWT received £96,360 from the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) at the end of March this year towards the construction of two Changing Places toilets, the other planned for Summerland Car Park in Minehead in the near future.

Cllr Smith-Roberts said: “Everyone has the right to a fulfilling and safe life, however, it's clear from the LeDeR report that many barriers remain for those with learning difficulties, or who are severely disabled.

“In light of the barriers highlighted, we’re committed to raising the profile of these issues to other councils and the wider community and I trust my fellow colleagues and our MPs will follow our lead in adopting the Bill of Rights. We’re also advocating for the Bill of Rights to be adopted by the new unitary council for Somerset whilst it’s still in the process of forming.”

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