I’ve just returned from Butlins in Bognor Regis (who says working in the charity sector isn’t glamorous?) where, with lots of help from volunteers from local and not-so-local Shared Lives schemes, a group of Shared Lives carers and people who use Shared Lives are taking a week’s break. We usually do this in Blackpool, and recently our colleagues at Aberdeenshire Shared Lives have organised weekends in Aviemore, but we thought it was time we came down South for a change.
Even Bognor, the UK’s sunniest place, hasn’t escaped the rain this week, but no one is going to let that stop them having fun. We were also doing some work. Colleagues have been hearing from people who use Shared Lives about how it has transformed lives which in some cases have been led in residential care or other institutions. Shared Lives carers are a dedicated bunch, and twenty of them crammed into our chalet for a session on personalisation and personal budgets yesterday, when they could have been enjoying some brief moments of sunshine. We discussed how Shared Lives can help people have more control and choices in their lives and I heard from some Shared Lives carers who were combining Shared Lives support with micro-enteprise approaches. In one instance, the carer offers Shared Lives in her family home and then, for people who want to move into a more independent setting, supported lodgings close by, so that she can be the consistent source of support as someone moves towards their own place.
Perhaps it was because I’d had the (too rare!) opportunity to spend time with people at the front line, and to see people with learning disabilities having fun and joining in with all the holiday activities that others were enjoying, that I felt particularly strongly when I noticed the current Mencap / Challenging Behaviour Foundation campaign to close down the remaining long stay ‘hospitals’ for people with learning disabilities and ‘challenging behaviour’.
There is no reason for these places to exist. However well run they are, large institutions will never be the best way for people to move back towards ordinary family and community life. The campaign is based on you emailing your MP, to ask her or him: Please write to the Health Secretary Andrew Lansley MP, expressing concern about the continuing existence of long stay institutions and ‘hospitals’ for people with learning disabilities and recommending that they are replaced with community-based alternatives (such as small homes, supported living arrangements and Shared Lives) as soon as possible. Emailing your MP takes seconds, thanks to Writetothem.com.
What was suprising about the Winterbourne View scandal was not, sadly, that abuse took place. When people are placed out of sight and mind, in institutions designed to contain and control them, there will always be instances of abuse. What was suprising was that such places continue to swallow up vast sums of public money, when cheaper, better alternatives like Shared Lives are well established and widely available.