Researched and developed by Lemos&Crane working with the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities and with support from Esmée Fairbairn Foundation
There has been a significant shift over the last 30 years away from placing people with learning disabilities in closed residential institutions and towards independent living, supported housing and other community-based accommodation. This shift in policy is to be celebrated. It has given people the promise of independence, freedom from confined horizons and all too frequently from institutional abuse, and freedom for pursuing more integrated and fulfilling lives within the community.
But the society and the communities in which people have found themselves have also changed significantly over the same period of time, becoming in many ways selfish and unwelcoming. Society’s most deprived neighbourhoods and communities – where many people with learning disabilities live independently in social and supported housing – are places where many residents’ self-esteem is chronically low, and where people with learning disabilities have become easy prey for cruel hearts and criminals.
Loneliness and Cruelty reports on the first phase of an on-going research project working with the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities and practitioners from housing, care and support, advocacy and police services across the country, supported by Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. For the first phase, 67 people with learning disabilities who live in the community were interviewed about their lives. People greatly value their independence and freedom to express themselves in their own space. But a lot of people feel lonely. One in four people interviewed didn’t have a best friend. And almost everyone had experienced some form of harassment, abuse or related crime in the community.
People experience incidents when they are ‘out and about’ in parks, shopping areas, and on public transport. People also experience incidents in and around their own homes. Neighbours and local residents are among the most common types of perpetrator, as are schoolchildren and young people in groups. ‘Predatory’ groups and individuals who pretend to be friends but who are really taking advantage of people are frequently encountered. Strangers in the street, family members, shopkeepers, work colleagues and care and support workers are also perpetrators.
Verbal attacks – name-calling, taunting, making cruel fun – are the most common type of incident. ‘Paedophile’ is a common term of abuse. Physical attacks, abuse and threats also occur frequently. ‘Financial abuse’ is common – stealing money, intercepting benefits, making people buy things – as are attacks on property. Other types of incident include emotional exploitation (being promised a romantic relationship only to be used as a source of cash or rent-free lodging), sexual abuse and rape.
Influencing policy and practice
Loneliness and Cruelty sets out a framework for tackling the problem identied that emphasises the importance of developing social capital to address the fundamental and underlying problem of the loneliness and social isolation of people with learning disabilities, as well as continued efforts to achieve criminal justice and equal rights. The policy and practice of over 1,000 providers of social housing, care and support, criminal justice and other community-based service have been influenced by the report. Read some of their comments here.
On-going work for the project includes developing a website that features guidance, projects and resources for practitioners working in the community, and an implementation framework that will enable agencies and organisations to review their policies and procedures to identify action areas that address the problems identified in the report.
Lemos&Crane’s project partners the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities are also working with a reference group comprising people with learning disabilities that is working to address internet safety, and hostile media portrayal of people with learning disabilities, among other issues.
Praise for Loneliness and Cruelty
“The Association of Chief Police Officers welcomes the report Loneliness and Cruelty. It emphasises the importance for police services of focussing efforts on improving services for some of the most vulnerable people in British society, to gain their trust and confidence in the criminal justice system. It also reminds police services to ensure adequate training for front line staff on understanding the needs and experiences of people with learning disabilities issues, and to improve practice and systems for reporting and recording. Finally, it underlines the need for closer working between the police and mainstream housing, care and support providers.” Alfred Hitchcock, Head of Equality, Diversity & Human Rights, Association of Chief Police Officers
"I welcome Lemos&Crane’s report Loneliness and Cruelty. It is a lucid, jargon-free account of ordinary lives disrupted by heartless exploitation and cruelty. It reminds us of the importance of ensuring that people with learning disabilities have informal as well as professional support within neighbourhoods and communities – and how important friends, families and neighbours are in keeping people safe. We shall certainly reflect the report’s findings in our approach to CQC’s inspections going forward.”
Dame Jo Williams, Chair of the Care Quality Commission
“The Loneliness and Cruelty report provides a vivid account of the difficult and harassed lives that many people with learning disabilities live in the community. The Crown Prosecution Service remains committed to prosecuting cases of disability hate crime as effectively as possible and in so doing recognising the impact that these offences can have on individuals and communities. We welcome the report from Lemos&Crane and the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities in helping us to better understand the issues affecting people with learning disabilities.” Keir Starmer QC, Director of Public Prosecutions, Crown Prosecution Service
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