Learning Disabilities is the oldest of the networks and the template for the other more recently created Provider Led Groups (PLG). It held meetings in October 2015 and January 2016 as the Learning Disabilities Providers Forum before converting to a PLG.
The 15th June 2017 meeting of the PLG was attended by 13 individuals. The main section of the meeting centered around updates from members of the Council's learning disabilities team. Topics covered included personal budgets, council communications, the resource allocation system and housing. The PLG learnt that in contrast to other condition areas, people with learning disabilities received personal budgets and many were managed by the council. Commuincations from the council around future budgets had not been effective and many organisations had wrongly understood cuts to be around 30% which impacted on their ability to forward plan.
Housing was an important factor for this cohort and some of the poor experiences and growth in dependency culture was down to a lack of joined up thinking between different council departments.
PLG members were asked if the PLG should be extended to include organisations providing support to those with physical disabilities. It was agreed that the learning disabilities group was already quite large and had a plan of work which might get diluted and become less focused if expanded. Scope for a seperate physical disabilities group would be explored by Community Southwark.
Following the main business of the PLG, members took part in a short focus group on the development of "Southwark Giving" – a place-based giving campaign which loosely follows the model of the successful Islington Giving and Hackney Giving campaigns.
The next PLG meeting held on 19th September 2017 focused around a presentation by council officials on early work to develop a holistic picture of the current learning disability support and housing system in the borough. Between 80-90 providers of services to Southwark residents had completed a survey on the current population, their needs and the current support and housing landscape. The intention was that this information would inform the future approach to provide support and housing for those with learning disabilities in Southwark.The data was incomplete and required further analysis before firm conclusions and recommendations could be drawn.
The council team had a number of questions that they sought help on and welcomed the input of PLG members. As a result a small task and finish group was set up from the PLG to work directly with the Council. PLG members also agreed to ask their users their opinions on the level of services received. PLG members were keen to understand what a good quality life would look like from the perspective of a person receiving support for learning disabilities and which might form part of a Council charter.
The third meeting of the PLG took place on 21st February 2018. The main issue for discussion was the impact of the reduction in funding for LD and the Council’s taking back of premises that some PLG members used to provide day services. A Council paper on the Review of day care provision for people with learning disabilities showed a reduction of £537k for 2017/18. A further paper outlined the rationale for the savings made. For adult social care, as people exercise more choice and control through personalisation, less money will be spent with high cost providers in residential settings as the Council support people with learning disabilities to live more independently.
Some members were faced with the prospect of losing premises that provided day care service for a significant number of those with learning disabilities. There was a concern that current users would have to attend alternative facilities that were unsuitable, unfamiliar to them and may not allow them attend and meet with fellow users who they had developed friendships with over a period of time. This could lead to a detrimental impact on their wellbeing.
There was a general feeling that there was no underpinning strategy for LD provision in Southwark and it was being subject to piece meal cuts. There was a lack of understanding by decision makers that support within the voluntary community for people with LD created a lot of social value that went unmeasured and unrecognised. For example, a loss in day centre provision would lead to a rise in social isolation and loneliness for an increasing number of individuals and their families and carers. There was also the concern that if one service closed there would be a domino effect.
Concerns were expressed over the completion and availability of support plans and the funding that followed them.