The vulnerable and the risks

By Dianne Martin, June 6, 2014
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Jake (not his real name) is in his early 20s, shy, lacking in confidence and lives at home with his parents. He has an overly trusting nature and cannot distinguish between someone he thinks is a friend, as opposed to somebody looking to take advantage of him. At school, Jake was not able to deal at all well with the kinds of banter that goes on in the classroom, and so became the target of routine bullying. Worst of all, he came to see this as the normal way of being treated.

Jake is the type of person most at risk as a result of far-reaching changes afoot in how social care is provided in this country. The Care Act 2014 will transform the way those needing a variety of care services receive them. It signals the biggest change in England in this area for more than 60 years.

This legislation is the government's response to the challenge of creating a system that meets the demands of a population living longer, with increasingly complex forms of disability, but with less financial resource at their disposal.

One of the main changes being introduced is, for the first time, to place the criteria for making decisions about who should receive local authority support into law. Previously, authorities have been able to decide for themselves who is eligible, whereas now they will be directed by the statute books to ensure that those with much more substantial needs are the ones funded, as opposed to people with milder forms of disability.

A little can sometimes go a very long way

The implications of this change for those in the latter group, the Jakes of this world, are extremely worrying. By their nature, these levels of disability make him particularly vulnerable.

To be clear, on paper, Jake will now not receive any support. By being kept out of the care system, he is being prevented from accessing the independent life he is fully capable of leading.

Instead, Jake remains trapped, highly vulnerable and ultimately locked out of mainstream society. Although unintentional, this legislation has the unfortunate consequence of putting some of the most susceptible in our society at even greater risk.

There is an alternative, much more positive, scenario, and one that is increasingly being adopted by forward-looking local authorities. It is where the needs of people like Jake are identified early, and seen from a longer-term perspective. By a process of early intervention, a person confronted by the types of challenges he faces can be effectively supported and equipped with the skills and confidence needed to thrive. This can be done within a community-based approach, a model we operate at Langdon, where Jake is empowered to live independently within his own community. He is given the opportunity to create close personal relationships with others facing similar challenges, with all the advantages this brings in dispelling the sense of isolation so often felt.

The upfront costs to the public purse are much less than they would be if Jake remained outside of the system, but then requires care at a later point, when, as the evidence consistently shows, he will go on to develop more substantial needs. This is a classic"prevention is better than cure" situation, and one which is ultimately a great deal cheaper for the taxpayer.

As the Care Act is implemented, people such as Jake, with so-called lesser forms of disability, quite simply must continue to receive the support enabling them to realise their capacity for independence.

It is vital that they are able to make the strongest possible case to the local authorities to receive this type of preventative care. Indeed, when it comes to the positive impact support can have on a person's life, a little can sometimes go a very long way.

This is a deeply challenging situation for all concerned, be it care providers, the local authorities, and, most importantly, the people needing support themselves. We must not abandon people like Jake in the course of sweeping change. If we do, a price will be paid in more ways than one.

Dianne Martin is chief executive of Langdon, the charity for learning disabled adults and youth

    Last updated: 11:27am, June 6 2014