And so, it goes on – one of the biggest scams in social history – how the fate of an inestimable number of innocent victims with learning disabilities has been transformed and traumatised by the irrational, almost bizarre, speculation of otherwise seemingly intelligent and highly educated people. It is an unbelievable but complex story based on the abbreviated version that is outlined below. This is to introduce newcomers to the disastrous negative change in social policy brought about by unwise and irresponsible decisions which defy credibility.
As a former practitioner and independent campaigner, I have attempted to alert successive governments and major charities to the immense waste of human and financial resources that has arisen since sound basic care in the community policies were set aside. Eminent humanitarian pioneers with immense hands-on experience introduced rational evolutionary policies in the late 1950s/60s that eventually enabled 50,000 inmates to be resettled successfully from large institutions into community settings.
Good progress was being made until local authorities came to exercise full control of policy direction and implementation in the mid-1980s. Although they had been delegated this authority since 1971, initially implementation was left to experienced practitioners under the guidance of experienced pioneers. By the late 1980s this guidance structure was supplanted by radical advice from sources committed to extreme but questionable ‘normalisation’ theories. This precipitated a spiral of decline in service support that has led to the turmoil that currently surrounds existing care in the community policies.
A series of reputable publications by major charities have charted the increasing trauma that tens of thousands of families have experienced during recent decades. Clearly, the complexity of the problem has not been fully recognised and finding a solution has been passed into the hands of middle management administrators, charities, academics, and private enterprise speculators who have neither the knowledge nor experience to address such a mammoth task. This provides little hope for a return to the equitable, stable, and comprehensive support service that was in the process of being achieved over 30 years ago. In fact, verifiable evidence confirms that the outlook for people with learning disabilities is considerably worse now than when I came into this area of work 50 years ago.
The most vulnerable members of our society need and deserve a service influenced and implemented by leaders sufficiently experienced and knowledgeable to fully recognise the complexity of the problems that these people and their carers face. Only then will movement proceed towards providing a continuum of opportunities that offers individual fulfilling lifestyles and builds bridges towards closer involvement in ordinary community life. This will never happen whilst the current fragmentation of policy leadership and policy direction remain subject to the whims of local authorities and Commissioners. This surely provides strong justification for a positive response to the plea for the formation of a single service agency with its own delegated Minister.