Lewisham People’s Parliament representatives met with me and members of my team to discuss what life can be like for people living with a learning disability.
The representatives, who are elected by other people living with learning disabilities in Lewisham, told us about the issues and discrimination they have faced in many parts of their lives – from difficulties in getting a job to issues with health and social care.
There are a number of barriers to employment and only 6% of people living with a learning disability are in paid work. These barriers range from a lack of flexibility from employers to widespread misunderstandings about learning disabilities in the workplace.
The representatives also told us about the issues they have faced in getting support. Cuts to local government have meant small care packages are disappearing – many local people living with learning difficulties no longer receive support in, for example, reading letters once a week. This is one example of a small piece of support which can have a huge impact – helping someone with learning disabilities with their post can ensure important meetings, bills or rent payments are not missed. It’s easy to see how losing these small care packages can have detrimental consequences on someone’s life.
Widespread misunderstandings of learning disabilities exist throughout society. An upcoming debate in Parliament has been organised in response to a petition about a young man with autism who died avoidably in hospital. His mother has started a campaign to make training on learning disabilities mandatory for NHS staff. Every year, 1,200 people with a learning disability die avoidably each year and life expectancy for people with learning disabilities is 25-30 years lower than the national average. This is not only tragic, it’s a national shame. Training of healthcare professionals, to ensure reasonable adjustments can be made for people with learning disabilities, is one way to address this. Two thirds of healthcare workers want more training, and one third think a lack of government leadership is contributing to the problem of avoidable deaths.
The meeting with Lewisham People’s Parliament was useful in shining a light on the number of issues people living with learning disabilities face every day. Communication is key – action must be taken to urgently address the many misunderstandings surrounding learning disabilities which have led to workplace discrimination, a loss of support and, most tragically, avoidable deaths.