The Government’s announcement, whilst long overdue, is nonetheless a positive development towards arriving at “personalised care and treatment that is accessible,” and for autistic people and people with learning disabilities “to have opportunities to live an independent life in their own home as part of their community.”

The Plan’s optimistic targets are encouraging signs that the Department of Health and Social Care has a vision for a better future. We acknowledge the progress to date, particularly around enshrining and respecting disabled people’s care choices whilst reforming the Mental Health Act. Nevertheless, the pace of change has been unacceptably slow.

There are wide-ranging proposals set out within the Plan, and United Response is pleased that a cross-departmental approach has been taken, with actions for tailored supports specified across the Departments for Education, Health and Social Care, Work and Pensions, and Justice.

We welcome the £90 million additional investment targeted toward fast-tracking discharges and transitions into community care settings.

Similarly, we are pleased that the Plan specifies improved training for health and care staff, limiting the scope for which detention and restraint may be used under the Mental Health Act and better pathways to justice – all of which we have called for in our recent submission on the Mental Health and Wellbeing Plan.

Skeptical about timelines and political will

Whilst these proposals are ambitious, United Response remains sceptical about the proposed timelines and political will for delivery as set out within the Plan.

After a series of successive reports and commitments from previous policymakers, according to Mencap, there are still over 2,000 autistic people and people with a learning disability currently trapped in inpatient mental health hospitals, with the average length of stay over five years.

This, in tandem with the volatile political climate at present, does not inspire confidence that decisive leadership will address this matter in the short or medium term.

We would also share the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group’s (VODG) concerns around the limited incentives for private care providers to support this Plan and its proposed reforms, speaking to a broader question over the private sector’s continued role in the social care market for disabled people.

Further, whilst we welcome the Plan’s commitment to developing an action plan for better outcomes for neurodivergent people who encounter the criminal justice system, we believe that a missed opportunity has occurred here.

We have long campaigned on the issue of disability hate crimes and highlighted their impact on victims and the cost of having no structured support in place to access justice. It is United Response’s view that offering full parity of protection for victims and explicitly outlawing disability hate crimes would prove an ideal early intervention in reducing admissions to mental health hospitals.

Our hopes for change

United Response hopes for the Plan to inspire meaningful actions for change across the political and social care landscapes between advocates, clinicians, families, and policymakers alike. We are calling for:

  • The National Audit Office to publish an annual report and present to Parliament on the progress of this action plan, echoing the VODG’s calls for similar actions.
  • A culture shift needs to occur across the National Health Service and Department of Health and Social Care, proactively collaborating with patients, families, advocates, and stakeholders, as we outlined in our submission on the Mental Health and Wellbeing Plan.
  • The new Prime Minister and new Secretary of State for Health and Social Care must give public assurances in their first one hundred days that they represent autistic people, people with a learning disability and those with complex needs and that they will continue to push for social care reform that meets their needs.
  • A fully funded social care system, as called for by the National Autistic Society, that targets investment towards empowering autistic people and people with learning disabilities to live independent lives and reduce numbers must be established.
  • Prioritise the Neurodiversity Training Toolkit’s development for criminal justice personnel (as outlined in the Ministry of Justice’s Neurodiversity Action Plan).

United Response is proud to work with the Care and Support Alliance and the VODG to continue to push for social care reform that is meaningful for the people we support.

Find out more

You can read the Government’s Plan in full here.

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