Over 40% of people with learning disabilities lost care and support over the past decade as a result of cuts to social care funding according to new research from Bath's Professor Rachel Forrester-Jones and colleagues at the Tizard Centre, University of Kent.

The results of the project led by the Tizard Centre, analysed the impact of austerity on the lives of people with learning disabilities. It highlights ‘significant challenges’ in terms of cuts to services and support which arose for those with learning disabilities since 2008.

Mapping the experiences of cuts to services introduced in 2008 for 150 people with learning disabilities the research team found:

  • 42% reported they had lost care.
  • 14% reported that their care had changed – but not reduced.
  • 36% reported their care had stayed the same.
  • 7% said their care had improved.

Most significantly, they found that those who had lost care were engaging in significantly fewer activities. These individuals scored lower on the Quality of Life index, which measures individual wellbeing, and had significantly lower self-esteem. Three quarters (74.8%) of the sample also scored highly for having ‘clinically significant’ anxiety.

Overall those who had lost care reported a reduction in daily activities - experienced particularly when day centres closed. They also reported an increased likelihood of feeling lonely or bored as well as a general loss of aspirations for their future.

Having studied the experiences of individuals from across England, the researchers found that there was no significant difference between regions, suggesting that austerity has been a leveller putting all people with a learning disability in a ‘precarious situation.’

Research lead, Professor Rachel Forrester-Jones, Director of the Centre for the Analysis of Social Policy at the University of Bath (former Director of the Tizard Centre), explains: “The Care Act 2014 enshrines support to help people with complex needs, including those with learning disabilities. But our research highlights the clear and very significant challenges that stand in their way in terms of reduced access to services and support as a direct result of austerity.

“Cuts to services right across the country have had a significant negative impact on the lives of many people interviewed, which has long-term consequences for individuals, their families and their futures.

"Improvements in social care support are needed. But we are starting from after 10 years of reductions in local services, with additional challenges from the impact of COVID-19 which would need to be addressed to support local authorities to fulfil their legal duties under the Care Act 2014. This will take vast amounts of resources and our study has shown that the scale of the challenge cannot be under-estimated."

Professor Glynis Murphy from University of Kent’s Tizard Centre added: “Removing even small amounts of support can make the most enormous difference to people’s quality of life. It is important to recognise how austerity has affected the most vulnerable in our communities.”

Access the full report - Becoming less eligible? Intellectual disability services in the age of austerity.

Further information

  • The results of the austerity project will be presented at 13:00 on Tuesday 7 July.

  • This work was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) School for Social Care Research (SSCR) under Grant C088/CM/UKJF-P100.

  • 'Learning disabilities' comprise both intellectual and development disabilities.

  • Mean total costs for providing care and support, including specialist accommodation, for those interviewed was almost £30,000 a year:

-- This ranged from £5,000 to up to and over £200,000. Living with one’s family was the cheapest arrangement (average of £8,269) though individuals may have received considerable levels of support from family members which went unrecorded.

-- The most expensive type of accommodation was 24-hour staffed residential homes, at around £73,000 a year - about twice the costs for people who lived in supported living arrangements - with fees likely to be paid from social services budgets.

  • The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NIHR SSCR, NHS, the National Institute for Health Research or the Department of Health and Social Care.