10 years since the Winterbourne View abuse case: what have we learnt?

Close up of two people holding hands.

Steven works on our campaigns and influences government so they better represent people with complex disabilities. He takes a look at the scandal at Winterbourne View residential home 10 years on.  

In June 2011, I, like many others, watched in horror as undercover footage for BBC Panorama showed the systematic abuse suffered by people living at Winterbourne View, a residential care home for people with learning disabilities near Bristol.  

The undercover footage showed residents being slapped, having their hair pulled, being verbally abused and held down while forced to take medication. Although the support workers involved rightly faced prosecution, the scandal raised wider questions about the care of people with learning disabilities and/or autism that, 10 years on, haven’t been answered. 

They promised lessons would be learnt following the uncovering of what was going on at Winterbourne View, and in 2012 the government launched an urgent review. They recognised that a hospital is not a home and promised to transfer 3,500 people in similar hospitals to community-based care. This meant that individuals could live closer to or at home while accessing support and services in their local area.  

More care in the community is needed for people with learning disabilities 

People with learning disabilities and/or autism should only be staying for long periods of time in hospitals or in-patient settings, in exceptional circumstances, such as for urgent mental health support. Speaking at the time, the Health Minister Norman Lamb promised a dramatic reduction in the number of people living in hospitals. He also said that many of the residents at Winterbourne View should not have been there in the first place and that this was the case across the country.  

We need more action to make care delivered in the community a reality. While we’ve seen a recognition that care and support delivered in the community is more beneficial for individuals, we need to see greater action to make this a reality for all people with learning disabilities and/or autism.  

In 2017, I watched Channel 4’s Dispatches programme about the issue. I watched with mounting dismay as it showed that people were still being held in hospitals or care homes that don’t meet their needs or, in some cases, even keep them safe.  

In 2019, we heard the story of Bethany, an autistic teenager who was held ‘in a cell for two years’. She received no therapeutic care while in hospital.  

Too many people remain in inappropriate residential settings or hospitals 

Over 2,000 people remain in in-patient settings with over 60% of these people having been there for over two years. People in places like this are often a long way from family. They’re often at risk of receiving insufficient care. 

I’m not suggesting that the kind of abuse we saw at Winterbourne View is prevalent — the majority of staff who work in such settings are dedicated and caring professionals. But we do need to see people with learning disabilities and/or autism supported to access the care they need in the community so they can live the lives they choose.  

Good quality care and support, like the type Sense prides itself on, can stop people from being admitted to hospital in the first place. But more recognition and resource for these services is needed.  

It’s a shocking indictment of our health and social care system, that ten years on from Winterbourne View, we are yet to see the change needed. 

Join us to campaign for change 

Become a Sense campaigner so we can make sure that people with complex disabilities get the support they deserve. You’ll join the Sense campaigns network and get all the latest on our campaigns for the rights of people living with complex disabilities to take part in life. 

When will the government turn its promises of social care reform into action?

Two women and a man stand outside the Houses of Parliament holding Sense placards, whilst a girl in a wheelchair sits next to them.

Sarah, our Head of Policy, Public Affairs and Research, explains the need for the government to get on with reforming social care.

If you switched on the television this morning you might have seen the coverage of the Queen in the Houses of Parliament, joined by lots of people in funny outfits, carrying the crown on a big cushion and banging on doors. Though it might seem like a weird ritual, it’s an important part of our country and how it runs – it was the state opening of parliament and the Queen’s speech.  

The Queen’s speech and opening of parliament is a bit like the start of a new term at school. The Queen is like the headteacher, setting out what work will be covered and what should be achieved.  For organisations like Sense, it’s an opportunity for us to hear what the Government plans to work on over the next few months, things like new laws or changes to policies.

The lack of government response to social care is unacceptable

Like many people, I watched the Queen’s speech today and wondered if social care would be mentioned.  We’ve been waiting for social care reform for many years, but it hasn’t yet happened.

We see the reality of this every day: too many people with complex disabilities and their families unable to access their local communities, communicate and connect. Too little support for family carers, unable to get the respite they need. Too little equipment, support, and services to provide care. 

This is unacceptable. 

So what did we get in the speech?  One sentence: “proposals on social care reform will be brought forward”.  

That was it.

On the face of it, this might sound positive, but we’ve been here before – this was said in the Queen’s speech 2019, and the Prime Minister made a promise on the steps of Downing Street but still we haven’t seen anything.

But in the run-up to the Queen’s speech, there was a lot of coverage in the media about disagreements over social care between government departments. For too long, disabled people and others who use social care have fallen through the cracks of disagreements and debate with no action taken. 

Reform would transform the lives of people who use social care

At Sense, we know that the last year has been extremely challenging for everyone and that the government has had many pressing priorities. But this isn’t an excuse to delay reform again; it’s an opportunity to bring it forward and to transform the lives of people who use social care. 

The pandemic has shown us how vital front-line staff are and the valuable role that social care provides, but it’s also highlighted how far behind social care is.

We had to fight to get testing, vaccines and PPE for services that support disabled people and social care. Those who work in these services simply don’t receive the same level of support as the NHS. 

For Sense, there are some key things we want to see these reforms do:

  • Bring more funding for social care services so that everyone can have their needs met
  • Make sure that disabled people are included and considered in all plans to bring change, not just older people
  • Recognise the incredible work that frontline staff provide and address the inequalities they face

So come on government, let’s turn promises of reform into action and let’s do it now. Disabled people have been waiting far too long and they deserve so much better.

Join us to campaign for change

If you agree with us that it’s time to stop delaying social care reform, become a Sense campaigner. You’ll join the Sense campaigns network and get all the latest on our campaigns for the rights of people living with complex disabilities to take part in life.

What is the plan for social care?

Two men sitting outside talking. What is the plan for social care?

The pandemic has had a devastating impact on social care and the people who rely on it. At Sense, our Forgotten Families campaign has revealed that a third (34%) of families with a disabled loved one still have not had any care or support reinstated since lockdown has been lifted. The Government has received considerable criticism from the press and Parliament for how it has handled support for social care. As a result, Government has released a new plan for the winter which sets out how social care will get the funding and resources it needs. What does this mean for Sense and the people we support?

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The Welsh Connection

Staff at Sense TouchBase Cymru taking part in a sociable Zoom meeting.

Every Thursday, we rally together and clap for our carers. During this time, key workers all over the UK have been doing an incredible job, not only by supporting the nation but by giving us all hope. Kate Wright, the manager of Sense TouchBase Cymru, is incredibly proud of her entire team and the way that they have responded to the lockdown.

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Is it possible to articulate a better future from this COVID emergency?

A group of people standing in a circle smiling. A woman is signing.

Across the world, we are taking extraordinary measures to stop the spread of Covid-19. This crisis has a profound impact on every aspect of our lives. Those that watch the news have spent the last two months acquiring a deeper understanding of the inequalities facing different communities. People are much more emotionally engaged and want to see change. They care more about the welfare of others and what it takes to improve people’s lives – many want a better society to emerge from this crisis.

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Whilst society moves forward we can’t allow disabled people to be left behind

A man and lady hand on hand signing to make sure disabled people don't get left behind.

Over the past few weeks we have all had our lives turned upside down. Whether directly or indirectly affected by Covid-19, we have had to change how we work, see friends and family or go about previously simple tasks like doing our food shopping or exercising.  At Sense we know that this has been truer than ever for the people who we support and their families.  We have had to adapt how we deliver our services, and know that changes to routine have been difficult. 

Continue reading “Whilst society moves forward we can’t allow disabled people to be left behind”