JCHR Press Notice 07-08 No 22


Embargoed until 00.01 Thursday 6 March 2008


A report released today by the Joint Select Committee on Human Rights paints an often harrowing picture of neglect, abuse and the denial of fundamental human rights to adults living with learning disabilities in the UK.

Evidence received by the Committee reveals that people with learning disabilities are more vulnerable to abuse and are less likely to understand their fundamental human rights, including to be treated with dignity and respect by public authorities. Adults with learning disabilities and their advocates and carers told the Committee about how people were denied the opportunity to conduct their own lives as any adult would take for granted including the ability to form and conduct relationships.

In the end, Tom spent 96 days in an NHS psychiatric assessment unit. His parents think that this was because there was nowhere else for him to go €¦ during this time, when he was not in an environment where he was supported by people with the right skills, his health was deteriorating. Tom was eventually diagnosed with a number of serious conditions but it was too late €¦ and he died a short while after his 20th birthday.

PMLD Network, €œTom€™s Transition Story€

The extent to which society looks down on us contributes to the fact that throughout our lives people with learning difficulties do not get their human rights, and yet there is no public outcry, no-one up in arms about how little choice we have over our everyday lives.

Andrew Lee, Director, People First (Self-Advocacy)

Andrew Dismore MP, Chair of the Committee, said

€œIt is extremely depressing to see, 10 years after the introduction of the Human Rights Act, the way people with learning disabilities are treated when using our services. The evidence has shown us that the consequences of a lack of awareness of people€™s rights can be devastating.€

The Committee focused on areas that presented the most stark human rights concerns: the treatment of adults with learning disabilities in health and residential settings; parents with learning disabilities; adults with learning disabilities in the criminal justice system; and the barriers they face in trying to live an ordinary life.

  • The Committee was concerned but €œnot surprised€ to find that people with learning disabilities in health and residential settings faced abusive and degrading treatment; neglect or carelessness by health and social care services; a lack of privacy in health and social care settings; and a lack of dignity.
  • The children of parents with learning disabilities were more likely to be taken into care. The Committee stressed that decisions to remove children from parents with learning disabilities must take into account the rights of the parent and the child to respect for family life and must the support that might be available to sustain a family.
  • Adults with learning disabilities had little confidence in the criminal justice system and expressed real concerns about disability hate crime. Witnesses told the Committee that people with learning disabilities who were accused of crimes were more likely to suffer from miscarriages of justice and prisoners were less likely to qualify for early release.

The Committee was particularly concerned to hear that despite the introduction of the Human Rights Act and the Disability Equality Duty, the Government were €œsearching for levers€ to encourage Departments and local authorities to implement a policy that ensures dignity and respect for the rights of people with learning disabilities. While the Committee welcomed the commitment of the National Directors for Learning Disabilities and the Minister for Care Services, it calls for a culture change in the provision of services for adults with learning disabilities, and a move away from out-dated, negative stereotypes.

Andrew Dismore MP, Chair of the Committee, added:

€œThere is a real gap between the Government€™s policy which is designed to improve the lives of adults with learning disabilities and their everyday experiences.

We were particularly shocked by witnesses who told us that even in cases of horrific abuse or neglect, staff simply did not know what they were doing was wrong We heard compelling evidence that people with learning disabilities wanted to play a greater role in speaking up for their own rights. We were astonished at the lack of a clear Government strategy to ensure they can understand their rights. We call on the Government to do more. The task of securing the dignity and self-respect of this vulnerable group is the responsibility of us all.€

An Easy Read Summary of the Committee€™s Report is available. An audio version of the Summary will be available online, and on CD (by request). More information about these alternative formats, contact 020 7219 2467 or jchr@parliament.uk.


[Notes to editors:
1. The Chairman of the Committee, Andrew Dismore MP, is available for interview and contactable by pager on 07659 592094.
2. The Committee membership is given below.
3. The Committee€™s Report is its 7th Report of Session 2007-08, A Life Like Any Other? Human Rights of Adults with Learning Disabilities, House of Lords Paper 40-I, House of Commons Paper 73-I.
4. Media inquiries: Ms Jessica Bridges-Palmer: 020 7219 0724]

The reports will be available from The Stationery Office (tel: 0870 600 5522), Parliamentary Hotline Lo-call 0845 7 023474, Email: book.orders@tso.co.uk, Internet: http://www.tso.co.uk/bookshop, TSO shops, The Parliamentary Bookshop, 12 Bridge Street, London SW1A 2JX (tel 020 7219 3890) and through good booksellers. They will also be on the Committee€™s website at the address below on the day of publication.