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Health inequalities: Learning disabilities case studies

Councils play a key role in reducing the inequalities people with learning disabilities can face through commissioning services which develop their independence and communication skills and promote good health. These case studies form part of the health inequalities hub, which is funded by UK Government.

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Before the pandemic, the inequalities people with learning disabilities faced were stark. Life expectancy was significantly shorter with nearly four in 10 deaths being from an avoidable cause.

The reasons for this are clear. They are less likely to access core health care that many take for granted – flu jabs, cancer screening or GP appointments. They are more likely to live in poverty, experience chronic loneliness and are less likely to be in paid work.

It is why Professor Michael Marmot, one of the world’s leading authorities in health inequalities, pointed out in a report in 2018 that this population group was more likely to experience “some of the worst of what society has to offer”.

The report, ‘A Fair, Supportive Society’, called for more efforts to integrate people with learning disabilities into society and to reduce stigma and discrimination as a way to improve their lives and health outcomes. 

Councils have been at the forefront of this. But the challenge has now been made all the more difficult by COVID-19. Support networks have been disrupted and some of the independence many people with learning disabilities have gained in the years leading up to the pandemic will have been lost.

Facing up to the task in hand requires determination and innovation. But as the examples featured below show, councils working with their key partners in both the voluntary and health sectors are ready.

Not only have they continued to support people with learning disabilities throughout the pandemic, but they have new and exciting plans for the future.

There is not a one-size-fits-all solution. The learning disability population is large and varied. The disabilities range from mild to severe and profound.

Some people with learning disabilities are very vulnerable, but others are not. The best support helps unlock each individual’s potential, supporting them to live independent, healthy and fulfilling lives. This will be essential on the post-pandemic road to recovery.

Key statistics

  • 1.5 million people with learning disabilities
  • 15 to 20 years shorter life expectancy
  • 38 per cent die from avoidable causes
  • 17 per cent of those of working age in paid work before pandemic
  • 50 per cent suffer chronic loneliness – twice the rate of the general population
  • 2.3 times higher death rate from COVID than general population.

Source: A Fair, Supportive Society and Public Health England

Council case studies