A chance to change lives
While all eyes have been on the drama unfolding at Westminster this week, at Holyrood, the First Minister unveiled her new Programme for Government for the year ahead – and there was some really good news for people who have a learning disability.
As a charity, ENABLE Scotland exists to campaign for the rights of people who have a learning disability, and so it is encouraging to see new targeted commitments in healthcare and education from the Scottish Government.
We know people who have a learning disability are more likely to suffer from a range of health conditions, and have life expectancy up to 20 years shorter than the general population. This is for no reason other than lack of equal access to universal health care services, and often experiencing challenges in communicating what is wrong.
So we really welcome the commitment to introduce tailored health screening services for people who have a learning disability, following examples from other countries that have been successful in improving health outcomes as a result of similar public health measures.
When I caught up with colleagues from around the world at the recent IASSIDD conference in Glasgow I learned that Scotland is actually the last part of the UK to introduce these routine health checks for people who have a learning disability. We’re delighted that the Scottish Government is acting quickly to put that right.
As a member of the newly appointed Keys to Life Leadership Group, I am looking forward to continuing to work with all our partners to implement the refreshed Keys to Life strategy to change the lives of people who have a learning disability for the better.
In terms of education, our influential #IncludED in the Main?! campaign has also successfully highlighted the challenges faced by children in classrooms throughout Scotland, and whilst we have welcomed improved guidance in the last year, it is even better to see a funding commitment in this week’s Programme for Government.
As Chair of the Scottish Government Implementation Group on Additional Support for Learning, I am very pleased to see that an extra £15m is to be invested into improving the experiences of children who have additional support needs, targeted at securing frontline staff to fill vital classroom support roles.
Access to high quality social care is a key to independent living for many of Scotland’s most vulnerable citizens, including people who have a learning disability.
Whilst it is good to see continued commitment to the principles of Self-Directed Support and reform of the social care system in the Programme for Government, the challenge will continue to be in the recruitment and retention of the skilled and compassionate social care workforce we need to make this a reality for everyone who needs it.
And no programme for government can offer a simple solution to this complex challenge.
Nonetheless, it’s encouraging to see the Scottish Government moving in a positive direction to respond to the issues raised through charities like ENABLE Scotland. But at any level of the system, collaboration is needed to drive progress.
At ENABLE Scotland over the coming Parliamentary session, our priorities are to respond to the challenges presented by the Coming Home report on supporting people who have learning disabilities to live in the communities of their choice, and not in hospitals and institutionalised settings. We also will be pushing for urgent progress on the findings of the Children’s Commissioner report, No Safe Place, which highlighted unacceptable breaches of the rights of children and young people in Scotland’s schools in terms of seclusion and restraint practices. We will be leading work through our role as secretariat for the Cross Party Group on Learning Disability to focus on the position of learning disability within the Mental Health Act.
With our partners in The Piper Group, Sense Scotland, we will be working to invest in systems that support frontline social care workforce at scale, collaborating to make the best use of the funds we have available. And we will continue, every day, to promote access to the principles of self-directed support in the social care and employability services we deliver for thousands of people across Scotland.
We look forward to working with partners in the Scottish Government, local government, the NHS, universities and across the sector to make the aspirations across health, social care, and education services a reality for people who have a learning disability, and the staff who work with them.