• Two fifths (42%) of local authorities plan social care for adults with learning disabilities based on just a one-year ahead view of their lives.
• Long-term planning would reduce costs and is the single greatest opportunity to improve quality of life for adults with learning disabilities.
• A third (36%) of care commissioners unaware of obligation to promote individual wellbeing in the Draft Care and Support Bill.
Local authorities are being forced to make short-term decisions for adults with learning disabilities – often deciding social care packages based on a one-year ahead view of their lives – according to A Plan for Life, a new study amongst senior local authority decision makers by learning disability charity, FitzRoy.
The report also reveals that local authorities are ill-prepared for the wellbeing provisions in the Draft Care and Support Bill. FitzRoy is calling on the Government to publish Guidelines alongside the Act to help local authorities understand and measure wellbeing, and to ensure its consistent application.
Call for long-term planning
The in-depth study finds that short-term planning is endemic in social care for adults with learning disabilities, suggesting a lack of consideration for longer-term needs, long-term costs and the person’s whole quality of life – beyond just a life in service.
Key life stages such as leaving college, entering older people’s services and the death of a parent can have a critical impact on the health and wellbeing of adults with learning disabilities. Yet, two fifths (42%) of senior local authority decision makers admit they look just one-year ahead or less when making care decisions.
A third (29%) do not recognise the death of a parent as being particularly significant in terms of its impact on social care needs, despite grave concern from parents and families about what will happen after this event.
However, the vast majority (94%) of care commissioners recognise the drawbacks of this short-termism, arguing that local government needs more opportunities to make long-term decisions rather than focusing on short-term challenges in these cases.
Cost is the overriding consideration when making these decisions, deemed influential by the vast majority (94%) of commissioners. Three quarters (73%) admit that cost is disproportionately influential and two thirds (64%) say they are often under pressure to cut costs at the expense of good quality service.
Anna Galliford, Chief Executive at FitzRoy, comments: “Adults with learning disabilities and their families need to know that they will be supported to live as independent and fulfilling a life as possible, and appropriately cared for.
“Care decisions have an almighty impact on an individual’s ability to manage their disability and how they live their life, for the rest of their lives.
“Local authorities face a huge responsibility to help adults with learning disabilities and their families find the best care and living arrangements for them. This cannot be determined by cost alone; these are lifetime decisions that must be based on whole life planning – looking beyond the current budget cycle.”
The study highlights an urgent need for change, with short-tem planning costing local authorities dear in the long-term and care commissioners admitting that long-term planning will help to improve quality of life and reduce care costs.
According to the vast majority of local authority commissioners, short-term planning leads to higher care costs (87% agree), greater care needs (78% agree), a higher rate of emergency placements (60% agree) and failure to secure the right care for adults with learning disabilities first time (57% agree) – all of which places significant strain on local government resources.
The vast majority (87%) also believe long-term planning presents the single greatest opportunity to improve the quality of adults with learning disabilities’ lives, with four fifths (82%) saying that too many of these individuals are currently unable to live happily and independently.
Galliford continues: “Short-term planning is illogical and is adding insurmountable pressure on local authorities, who are already struggling to cope with severe budget cuts and increasing demand for their services.
“Short-term planning threatens the whole quality of a person’s life, whether they want to establish new relationships, develop new skills, go to work or be more involved in their local community.
“Long-term planning and measuring wellbeing, however, can help manage demand and reduce the cost burden that is weighing so heavily on local authorities today.”
Worryingly, a third (36%) of local authorities are unaware that the Draft Care and Support Bill creates a legal obligation for them to promote individual wellbeing. A quarter (25%) do not feel prepared to fulfil this duty, and two fifths (44%) do not have a clear strategy in place to promote wellbeing.
While more than half (55%) do not have a formal means of measuring the quality of life of adults with learning disabilities, three quarters (74%) say a universal measure would improve placement stability and more than two thirds (67%) agree it would reduce long-term costs.
Galliford adds: “With the introduction of new wellbeing measures, local government has a steep learning curve ahead of it. This could be a great turning point for social care and we are calling on the government to help define wellbeing as clearly as possible, and to help put individuals at the centre of social care decisions.”