In June the Welsh Government published its Programme for Government. Cath Lewis, Senior Research and Policy Officer, looks at what the plan means for people with a learning disability in Wales.

The new Programme for Government sets out the Welsh Government’s priorities for the next 5 years following the recent Senedd elections. In the introduction, Mark Drakeford writes that “It is founded on the distinctively Welsh values of community, equality and social justice […] showing how we will act to maximise fairness for all and eliminate inequality at every level of society”. He continues, “It shows how we will […] address the systemic causes of inequality in all its forms. This will be a Wales where nobody is held back, and no one is left behind.” These are worthy aspirations but how will these plans impact on the lives of people with a learning disability who have long suffered inequality that has been further exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic?

The Programme for Government is made up of a short series of bullet points that incorporate pledges made in Labour’s manifesto for the recent election. The points are very high level and, if previous practice is followed, are likely to be underpinned by an action plan giving more detail on how they will be implemented. There is no direct reference to people with a learning disability in the document but there are 3 points that highlight what the government will do for disabled people:

  • Use the new network of Disabled People’s Employment Champions to help close the gap between disabled people and the rest of the working population.
  • Make our Welsh public transport system more accessible to disabled people.
  • Incorporate the United Nations Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women and the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People into Welsh law.

There are many other points that cover topics of relevance to people with a learning disability. These include pledges on health, social care and support for family carers. One refers to legislation that will “deliver better integrated care and health services”, which is welcomed and will hopefully go some way to removing the arbitrary distinction between a health need and a social care need. Another vital pledge is to:

“Pursue a sustainable UK solution so that care is free for all at the point of need and / or consult on a potential Wales only solution to meet our long-term care needs.”

This is likely to be widely welcomed by the thousands of people, including people with a learning disability, who rely on social care services to live their lives. Mr Drakeford has told a PA news agency that he hopes social care changes would come in during the “first half” of this Senedd’s 5-year term, so watch this space!

In the meantime, Welsh Government is also pledging to:

  • Cap the costs of non-residential social care at the current £100 maximum per week.
  • Maintain the capital limit (for care) at £50,000Pay social care workers the real living wage, which is higher than the national living wage and is pegged to the cost of living.

Support for family carers is also promised and there is a pledge to “strengthen support for carers through a Covid hardship fund in 2021” and to “fund a short-break respite scheme to help carers”.

Supporting employment is a priority with pledges to “create 125,000 all age apprenticeships” and “deliver the Young Person’s Guarantee giving everyone under 25 the offer of work, education, training or self-employment”. Learning Disability Wales will advocate for both these pledges to include people with a learning disability. With regards to pay, legislation will be explored “to address pay gaps based on gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, disability and other forms of discrimination”.

Education pledges includeImplementing the new Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act” and “Supporting schools and teachers to deliver our world-leading Curriculum for Wales”. Learning Disability Wales is actively engaging with Welsh Government on both pledges to ensure the needs of children with a learning disability are met.

The pandemic has increased the focus on poor mental health and the Programme for Government includes pledges to prioritise service redesign to improve prevention, tackle stigma and promote a no-wrong door approach to mental health support” and “roll out child and adolescent mental health services ‘in reach’ in schools across Wales”.

Other pledges of interest include:

  • Fund childcare for more families where parents are in education and training.
  • Support innovative housing development to meet care needs.
  • Introduce an autism statutory code of practice on the delivery of autism services.
  • Expand our Access to Elected Office programme.
  • Improve the interface between continuing health care and Direct Payments.

Learning Disability Wales will be working tirelessly to support the Welsh Government to put these pledges into practice and ultimately to create a Wales that will be the best country in the world for people with a learning disability to live, learn and work and to be a Wales where nobody (including people with a learning disability) is held back and no one is left behind.