Leeds has been left behind in providing services for adults with learning disabilities – and the council is now battling with increased external pressures as they fight to catch up.
Rather than rounding up people with learning disabilities each day and keeping them all together in large groups, using workers' time more creatively to help those individuals who can gain the confidence to make their own friends, get on buses and go out on their own to visit places they themselves want to go to – is already proving
extraordinarily liberating. Radical change is always daunting. However, local authorities elsewhere are proving that it is possible – even preferable – to provide services for adults with learning disabilities this way while still meeting both their legal care obligations and staying within their tightening budgets.
Community organisations such as Leeds Advocacy have long been learning from the experience being gained elsewhere, and we are just one of several groups in the city trying to help the council focus more clearly on providing the best service for every individual.
Learning disabilities vary hugely. Some people will still need centre-based care. Others can and do learn relatively quickly once freed from institutional environments. They find life far less daunting, far more fun, fulfilling and easier to live than old-fashioned approaches have led them – and their families – to believe.
The challenge for us all is to nurture people with learning disabilities so that they can realise their full potential to live independently, contribute economically and find happiness for themselves as individuals.
From: Ralph Porter, chairman, Leeds Advocacy, Leeds.
From: Neal Frankland, Carleton Park Avenue, Pontefract.
PUNISHING men and women for being unemployed, which is what the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are proposing to do by removing 10 per cent of the housing benefit of those that can't find work inside 12 months, is indefensible at any time.
When the coalition Government is planning the removal of half a million people's jobs from the public sector, and PwC is anticipating that the private sector will dispense with another half a million, to do so can only be described as downright perversity.
There are five unemployed people for every vacancy in the British economy, and the Government, instead of looking to guarantee jobs, wants to penalise men and women who can't find work which doesn't exist. If you can't find one of their non-existent jobs, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are going to take away the money you need to live, and put you out on the street, because their fantasy philosophy, politics and economics matters more to them than you do.
There is an alternative to this bizarre mix of jealousy and judgementalism, of course, as Labour is pointing out in Parliament.
Rethink is needed over penal policy
From: Keith Wigglesworth, Mead Way, Highburton, Huddersfeld.
THERE is currently and quite rightly in my view, a new review of sentencing and the rehabilitation of criminals being conducted by the coalition Government. Far too many career criminals are being given cautions, often successive ones instead of jail sentences. Those that do receive sentences, appear to spend their time inside playing pool, watching television or selecting new colour schemes for their cells.
Rehabilitation seems to be a complete failure, judging by the number of prisoners re-offending after release, a view taken by many prison reformers who complain that our prisons are bursting at the seams. They believe that community service is the way forward, but I have to admit to never having witnessed or heard of anyone on such schemes. Some reports, also verified on a television documentary some months ago, seem to confirm that many offenders on such schemes spend most of their time smoking and drinking tea instead of providing work to help the community. If this is indeed the case, then there is precious little rehabilitation there.
Another parallel concern facing us is that despite the present upsurge in recycling, far too much household waste is still being buried in our rapidly diminishing landfill sites. All of our waste should be thoroughly sifted and all items deemed fit for recycling removed before the residue is buried.
The cost of operating such a scheme would be horrendously expensive, despite the obvious benefits, were it not for an untapped source of low-cost manpower that idles its time away in our prisons.
A radical rethink of our penal system in the form of giant recycling plants could possibly be the answer to two major problems facing our country. The waste could be tipped on to elevated conveyor belts similar to airport luggage delivery systems, with successive teams of convicted offenders being responsible for the removal of certain types of waste that would then be dropped into waiting skips below, with the final, much reduced residue going off to landfill. Such a scheme could provide gainful employment for offenders while re-instilling into them a work ethic (that has to count as rehabilitation) and also provide an extremely useful community service.
Stand up for democracy
From: David H Rhodes, Keble Park North, Bishopthorpe, York.
THE European Parliament, European Commission, House of Lords, House of Commons, European regional administrations, national assemblies,
regional development agencies, quangoes, county councils, parish councils. My friend Steve and I were discussing the numerous layers of administration we are all subject to today. We concluded that as our MPs and thus our parliaments are spineless in making demands of Europe, we should drastically cut the bureaucracy. Thus we agreed that the European Parliament and Commission along with regional assemblies to activate the diktats should suffice. The rest can go. This will make great savings financially and enable Brussels to have copious amounts of champagne.
Alternatively, we could fight our corner for democracy and common sense and tell the EU what we find acceptable and what we will co-operate on.
The red herring that our hands are tied because of the Lisbon Treaty is bunkum. Take just one example as in the British Bill of Union of 1706 when the Scots parliament voted itself out of existence. Was this a stumbling block when in recent times power was restored to Scotland? We thus feel that if a change is justifiable and is the wish of the people then no treaty is sacrosanct. Go for it Prime Minister.
Reality check on 'stress'
From: Barrie Frost, Watson's Lane, Reighton, Filey.
STRESS has become the most common health and safety problem at work, mainly affecting staff in the public sector, a study showed, with seven out of 10 union officials in the capital saying that stress was a hazard at work. But, are we convincing ourselves that any job which involves making decisions or experiencing non-routine situations is stressful and can, somehow, be detrimental to our health? Are we looking for excuses to explain our shortcomings?
Several people have commented on the word "stress" and how it now seems to be used too frequently and inaccurately to describe modern situations and our working lives. Even negotiating footballers' contracts has been described as stressful.
It reminds me of an interview in the '50s with Keith Miller, the great Australian test cricketer; a magnificent all-rounder but probably more famous for his devastating fast-bowling partnership with Ray Lindwall.
He was asked if he found playing test cricket against England stressful.
Keith Miller had been a fighter pilot for Australia in the last World War, and he replied to this question on the following lines: "Stressful playing cricket? Stress is when you're flying a fighter plane with a German Messerschmitt up your rear."
I believe Keith Miller's more realistic interpretation of stress is correct and we are building up conditions which simply do not exist.
Vital funding should not go to bureaucrats
From: Manos Schizas, Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, Lincoln's Inn Fields, London.
THERE have been cries of dismay over Vince Cable's admission that the new Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) will not receive funding to enable them to access the Government's 1.4bn regional growth fund (Yorkshire Post, October 29).
However, critics should pause to think before rushing to the conclusion that this will inhibit access to finance for small businesses. Earlier this year, regional development agencies (RDAs) were abolished partly because they ate up 2bn per year, or 13 per cent of the investment that they managed, in admin costs. Funding for the LEPs would only serve to reinstate the RDA system, if perhaps on a smaller scale.
What seems to be at fault here, is the fundamental process by which regional businesses are expected to apply for government funding – by demonstrating how well their plans fit into a cumbersome sub-regional policy master plan. To anyone who isn't immersed in policy-speak, it borders on madness for the Government to fund bodies so that they can afford to apply for more government funds.
Instead, communication, referrals, bid preparation and evaluation should really all be taken up by private sector organisations and advisers on the ground. Accountants, for instance, are well placed to provide support to applicants. If there are still concerns that more disadvantaged regions may lose out, the Government should simply agree on a given percentage of the 1.4bn to be allocated to each region.
The growth of small businesses will be vital to the recovery of the UK economy; and government money must be allocated where it will help them the most, not into a bureaucratic black hole.
Brave troops cannot win
From: Peter R Hyde, Driffeld, east Yorkshire.
ONCE again, we are seeing young men who have been maimed in war as the Poppy Appeal starts. I wonder why our political leaders allow us to be involved in conflicts like the unwinnable war in Afghanistan.
It would be far better that our troops were brought home to defend our own shores against terrorism at home. Our Law Lords could do much by allowing the eviction from our country of those radical Muslims who preach hatred against the very country that gives them shelter.
Cash and values
From: RD Leakey, Giggleswick, Settle, North Yorkshire.
SHEENA Hastings (Yorkshire Post, October 25) pointed out in her feature how banks are developing quicker ways to pay for goods. The technology is just what is needed to impose virtual currency for food, education, transport and housing, among other essentials. It should be the actual need for such essentials that launches money to buy them, and not the finance industry and bankers.
It could be used to associate people's identities with the good they do for others.
Lock them up
From: Christopher Clapham, Shipley.
I AM one of those appalled that 62 per cent of people who have committed 15 or more crimes are not sent to prison (Yorkshire Post, October 28). One crime should be enough, let alone 15.
Is it not time to stop deceiving the public and bring in minimum sentences reflecting the wishes of the majority?
Invest in skills
From: Alfred Gabb, Overton, York
WHEN I graduated from Loughborough College in 1951 as a civil engineer, many of my fellow students were ex-service personnel. They got everything free, as a professional workforce was essential. So surely, as in post-war times, the Government should waive tuition fees, especially for the manufacturing-related professions, such as science and engineering.