The long shadow of Winterbourne View

The government has released a consultation document on the rights of people with learning disabilities, autism and mental health conditions.

No Voice Unheard, No Right Ignored, is intended to ‘give people a stronger voice, more rights and more control’ over their lives.

It comes in the wake of a National Audit Office report, published in February, which pointed out the abject failure of the government to meet its target for moving people with learning disabilities out of assessment and treatment centres.

In setting that target, which was a solution to the Winterbourne View scandal, the government was full of good intentions, but naïve. Ministers said they would get people into more suitable accommodation close to families in double-quick time, and they failed. Miserably.

This latest consultation has been welcomed by learning disability charities, who must be exasperated that such little real progress has been made for people who are inappropriately placed in assessment and treatment centres far from home.

It must be said that the consultation’s aims are laudable: who could argue against giving vulnerable people a stronger voice, more rights and more control over their lives?

The problem is what is happening on the ground today. There are 3,000 or so people still living in hospital-type accommodation who are missing out on what most of us would consider a normal life – that is, living in a house or flat, rather than an institution.

For them, yet another 80-odd page consultation document might seem an irrelevance and only time will tell whether it will have an effect in the long term.

My guess it that it might, but it is unlikely it will hasten the day when people with learning disabilities will be able to close their own front doors at night, which is a blessing most of us are able to take for granted.