Call for action to support people with learning disabilities during pandemic

Scottish Parliament debating chamber

Policymakers in Scotland must do more to support adults with learning disabilities, according to a new report by the Fraser of Allander Institute.

The report finds that whilst the Scottish Government has proclaimed that all people in Scotland should be have the opportunity to flourish, the reality is that many people with learning disabilities are being denied this opportunity.

The report is the first in a series of publications that the Institute will be releasing over the next 12 months as part of a major new study into the outcomes for working age people with learning disabilities and their families in Scotland.

As of 2019, there were 23,584 adults with a learning disability known to local authorities across Scotland. However, the true figure is likely to be a huge underestimate.

Indeed, one of the key challenges in understanding this research area is the lack of even the most basic forms of data. Which almost makes this sector and the families involved ‘invisible’ in mainstream debates.

Inclusive economy

The researchers found that people with learning disabilities have a life expectancy 20 years lower than the general population, in many cases due to preventable illnesses.

In addition, they estimate that only 7% of adults with learning disabilities are in paid work but many more can and want to work.

The researchers also surveyed more than 1,000 adults and found that:

  • The quality of life for people with learning disabilities matters for many people. A third of the public either has or knows someone with a learning disability.
  • The majority of the public agree that people with learning disabilities are citizens who should be able to make their own choices in life.
  • Two-thirds of the public agree that people with learning disabilities should receive financial support for the extra costs that result from their disability.

Professor Graeme Roy, Director of the Fraser of Allander Institute, said: “In order to have an inclusive economy that genuinely provides opportunities for all, there needs to be a much better understanding of what this means for people with learning disabilities.

“Across the country there are numerous examples of outstanding work being undertaken to support adults with learning disabilities whether that be individual government support programmes, the work of charities, or the extraordinary efforts that families and friends put in to support their loved ones.

“But we have been taken aback by how little the challenges people with learning disabilities face – as well as the opportunities available to them – feature as part of general policy debates.

“It is alarming the extent to which people with learning disabilities are swept over. There is an overwhelmingly sense that people with learning disabilities are ignored when it comes to big decisions that affect our society and economy.

Emma Congreve, a researcher on the project, said: “Warm words about wellbeing mean nothing unless adequate support is put in place to give people the opportunities that they need to thrive.

It is telling that we do not even know how many adults in Scotland have learning disabilities. It is impossible to design effective policy solutions if even this basic information is not known."

Professor Roy added: “Many of the challenges that people with learning disabilities face – including to their basic human rights – have only become even more difficult in the light of COVID. But with an election looming in May next year, there is the opportunity for all political parties to tackle this issue. Funding is only one part of the solution. It will require joined-up policymaking. And it will also require a concerted effort across society – including within businesses – to change cultures and attitudes.

“The pandemic has turned lives upside down and overnight removed much of the support that people with learning disabilities rely on. It’s crucial that better outcomes for people with learning disabilities are part of any effort to ‘build back better’."