It is a tough time for people with disabilities. At Housing Options, a housing advice service for people with learning disabilities and their families, the number of people we advise has more than doubled in the last 12 months. We have never before had so many desperate people needing help to navigate the complex housing, care and welfare systems to get what are very basic needs met.
In particular, we are hearing more from families of people with profound and multiple learning disabilities, and people with what is often described as challenging behaviour. People with such complex needs often end up in healthcare or residential services away from their communities. But since Winterbourne View, families understandably want to keep their disabled relatives close to them, in housing and support services they can trust.
In response to Winterbourne View, the Association for Supported Living(ASL), a provider membership organisation, published a report calledThere is an Alternative. This detailed community based approaches that enable people with the most complex needs, previously confined in institutions, to lead ordinary lives in their communities. Crucially, these community services are cheaper than the institutional ones they replaced.
These approaches enable people to live valued lives and avoid institutional care. We think it is simply wrong that people live in hospitals and other institutions unnecessarily, and at great cost. But frustratingly little seems to have changed since Winterbourne View. Debates concentrate on whether services should be public or private, instead of acknowledging that we should not be sending some of the most vulnerable members of our society away from the people that know, love and care about them.
The ASL and Housing Options have been promoting community based approaches to housing and support for some years, sometimes coming together but usually ploughing our own bits of turf like many third sector organisations. Both organisations are funded largely by members, comprising mainly of housing providers, support providers, commissioners, and advocacy and carers groups.
So on a practical level, we knew that if we joined together and doubled our membership we could better fund our free advice service and respond more effectively to the growing number of people needing help.
The most important reason for our merger, however, is to communicate a strong, positive and achievable vision for the lives of people with learning disabilities in our communities. There is a growing sense in our sector that good quality, community based approaches are not affordable in the current financial climate. This brings with it a risk we will revert to institutional services and undo years of good work. Our members include the providers, commissioners, carer and advocacy groups who are out there demonstrating that good community services are possible despite tough times. We want to establish and maintain a collective and coherent voice in housing and support for people with learning disabilities to communicate this message.
The new Housing & Support Alliance will continue to run a national advice service for people with learning disabilities and offer training and development in community based approaches to housing and support. Our national development work has already begun as we have been tasked by the Department of Health to co-ordinate a provider led response to drive up quality in the sector as a part of its Winterbourne View review.
Alicia Wood leads on business development for Housing Options.