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Government failure on social care should come as no surprise – they’ve been letting down people trapped in institutions for years

Government failure on social care should come as no surprise – they’ve been letting down people trapped in institutions for years
4 min read

Ten years on from the Winterbourne View revelations, it is time for the government to back up their rhetoric with action and end the long list of broken promises to autistic people and people with learning disabilities.

This May marks the 10th Anniversary of BBC Panorama uncovering a litany of abuses at the Winterbourne View Hospital. The hospital, which nominally cared for people with learning disabilities and autistic people was shown to be totally unfit for purpose.

One resident was showered while fully clothed, and had mouthwash poured in their eyes. Another was asked by a member of staff if they wanted them to ‘get a cheese grater and grate their face off?’

Residents were slapped, held down under chairs, had their hair pulled and were pinned down while medication was forced into their mouths. One resident was so distressed by this treatment that they tried to throw themselves out of a second floor window and the resident was then mocked by staff when they survived.

Nobody should ever face treatment like this, least of all those who are supposed to be under the care of our NHS. The government at the time recognised this, and David Cameron pledged to close all these inappropriate institutions by 2014.

The Conservatives have continued to hand over money to private hospitals to detain people in entirely unsuitable conditions with scant regard for their human rights

A decade on, there are still more than 2,000 autistic people and people with learning disabilities detained in inpatient units. On average, each person will have been in hospital for more than 5 years.

Rather than backing up that commitment in 2011 with the full weight of government and the funding needed to support people in the community, the Conservatives have spent the last 5 years cutting local authority social care budgets.

When they inevitably failed to meet their target in 2014, another target was set to reduce – but not eliminate – the use of these units by 2019. Again, this target was missed and promises were made that the reduction would be met by 2024. On the current pace of change, this target is going to be missed as well.

For anyone who has followed the Conservative’s track record on social care this will be a depressingly familiar sight.

Rather than investing in the public services to support people to live independently in the community, they have continued to hand over vast sums of money to private hospitals to detain people in entirely unsuitable conditions with scant regard for their human rights.

Fixing this problem will not be easy but it is not impossible. Putting in place high quality support, delivered by trained staff in an appropriate home, costs money but we have seen that it can be done. Indeed, this support often turns out to be considerably less expensive than inpatient units – which can cost many thousands of pounds a week.

As it stands, the government is happy for the NHS to waste money on sub-standard care simply because they are unwilling to give local authorities a comparatively modest increase in their social care budgets.

In 2019, Labour committed to follow through on the pledge David Cameron made in 2011 and finally end the use of these outdated and inappropriate institutions. As part of our National Care Service, we would have invested £350 million a year in dedicated funding for local authorities to support people to move back into their communities.

By contrast, the government has committed a mere £60 million over three years – enough to support only a few hundred of the 2,000 people currently trapped in inpatient units.

This is simply not good enough. Ten years on from the Winterbourne View revelations, it is time for the government to back up their rhetoric with action and end the long list of broken promises to autistic people and people with learning disabilities.

 

Barbara Keeley is the Labour MP for Worsley and Eccles South.

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