Families fight to save vital learning disability services

  • Video report by ITV News Meridian's Richard Jones

Families reliant on services for people with learning disabilities have told ITV Meridian that they are at 'breaking point'.

It comes after parents and carers in West Sussex say planned cuts to their day services would have a devastating affect, and they're campaigning against them.

Aldingbourne Country Centre near Chichester has provided a range of activities for people with learning disabilities since 1978.

Aldingbourne Country Centre Credit: ITV News Meridian

However everything is on hold because of lockdown and that's had a profound effect on Ollie Russell who's gone there five days a week for the last 14 years.

His mum Sue says: "He's at home everyday saying when can I go back to Aldingbourne, virus has gone, virus has gone, he couldn't get it, he was really upset, he missed all his friends, the staff, it's his life. This past year has been very trying, trying to fill his days, it's his purpose, he sees it as his job."

Parents and carers fear that the lockdown closure of places like this could be a taste of what is to come.

Aldingbourne's funding from the county council has already been reduced by 20% and more cuts are in the pipeline for 2022.

That could mean people going there either less often or not at all.

Campaigners describe it as a 'false economy'.

Sue Livett from Aldingbourne Country Centre says: "If you think about people's lives, the needs they have aren't going to go away. If you take away these services they are going to re-emerge in the system.

"So it's a bit like pushing them down here and hoping they will go away, but it won't, it'll pop up somewhere else and be more expensive."

Amanda Bairstow is one of many parents now campaigning against any cuts to services. Her daughter Florence has been going to Aldingbourne for a year and hopes to go there four days a week once lockdown is lifted.

Florence has been going to Aldingbourne for a year. Credit: ITV News Meridian

Amanda says: "She gets a routine to her week, she socialises with her friends and has a peer group, she takes part in enjoyable activities, she gets to increase her independence and skills and most importantly you have fun, don't you."A spokesperson for West Sussex County Council said: “The County Council is not making cuts to learning disability day services in 2021/22. This was initially proposed but consideration of potential savings have been deferred until next year.

"It is important to stress no final decision has yet been made. We will, over the next year, work with people who currently use services, their families and friends, and other key organisations to learn from people’s experience and explore their ideas about what support they and their families want in the future.

“This feedback will be taken fully into account when we consider proposals for the future of learning disability day services, so that we can deliver the best possible support within available resources.

"Any potential changes to services will then be subject to a full public consultation. The County Council will continue to support people who are assessed as needing care and support.”