Authors: Clive Tuck and Amanda Topps
Mencap is launching a new Strategic Vision – the New Big Plan. In October we attended the second of two public consultations before its full launch. The discussion was led by Edel Harris, the newly appointed CEO, with other senior colleagues and a paid employee with learning disabilities, Ciara Lawrence. There were 30 or so delegates from other organisations such as Turning point, VODG, NAS and the NHS.
The New Big Plan was described as a fundamental shift in thinking. Mencap are looking to move away from a focus on being one of the big providers, towards a new operating model, based on collaboration and partnership. They are looking to work in a more focused way, in local communities, and to develop a network of agile smaller locality teams.
Their new vision is for the UK to be the ‘best place in the word if you have a learning disability to live a happy and healthy life' Ciara was invited to comment at this point, sharing with her audience her personal history of bullying through school and beyond. Her hopes were expressed succinctly as “people need to see us, hear from us and talk to us” with a request that information be made available that is more accessible for people with learning disabilities. Ciara also wished to see Mencap influence public attitudes towards people with learning disabilities stating people are treated “as if they are stupid” due to lack of respect and ignorance.
One of the most powerful parts of the presentation was listening to Ciara tell her own story and her experience of being bullied. After telling us about gaining employment with Mencap she concluded by saying:
“I have a voice. I have friends. I have colleagues. I am married. I have my own home. I am a trustee for two local disability charities, and I meet with families to change stuff in my local area. My community is now a place I feel welcome.”
Mencap’s proposed new purpose was expressed as “to provide a vital spark so that all people with learning disabilities live healthy and happy lives.” The use of language in the statement caused some interesting responses from delegates, with some feeling that there was a continuing sense of paternalism, despite the language of a paradigm shift towards individualism and community. Ciara challenged the metaphor as being confusing and unclear to the people that Mencap intend to help.
Mencap has since decided, based on the feedback from the consultation sessions, to drop having a defined Purpose stating that their purpose is inherent in the vision statement.
The new strategy was broken down into 3 main parts:
The ambition is to:
The presentation itself showed these as 3 concentric circles with Individuals at the centre and with society in the outer circle. This was merely illustrative of course, however it did rather amplify a sense that people with disabilities don’t exist in the outer two rings and were fixed as a group passively receiving support - not as campaigners in their own right or as active citizens. However, as discussion of the campaigning strategy made clear, this work must be done with people with learning disabilities, and not for them. This shines a hopeful light on the methods it intends to use in its new approach.
Mencap expressed an intention to seek out new ways of working and to move towards greater freedom to act, although whose freedom remained unclear in the statement. This aspirational call to pursue the freedom of individuals to act is irreproachable, however, we did note that the impacts of the Covid-19 lockdown and the intersectional prejudice faced by black and ethnic minority communities were not mentioned and were only discussed after a challenge from one of the delegates.
When asked what the biggest life challenges for people with learning disabilities were, Mencap provided this list of common and recurrent themes:
The audience identified other ‘big gaps’ including health inequalities, rights and being heard - a gap which is not surprising given austerity’s erosion of self-advocacy groups across the country after the dissolution of the Valuing People programme. Transition from youth to adulthood and from adult to older adulthood was also mentioned as still lacking consistency. As one participant commented, young people and their families “drop off a cliff” at transition. These are all very familiar themes and underline the sad lack of progress in adult social care and other services over recent decades. The audience were also keen to make sure people with profound intellectual and multiple disabilities were included in the new Mencap work-streams.
From the Centre for Welfare Reform’s perspective it is striking that Mencap’s strategy is built on new assumptions about how the world works and what is worth focusing on.
As Dr Simon Duffy, Director of the Centre puts it:
“This is an exciting moment. Mencap was formed as one of the most important organisations to challenge institutionalisation, to offer practical assistance to families and to carry forward the hope that people could lead a full community life. Its impact has been tremendously positive; but over the past few years it seemed that Mencap had rather lost its way - perhaps too focused on regulated service provision and rather less willing to challenge some of the powerful injustices faced by people with learning disabilities - many of which have accelerated in the last decade or more. The New Big Plan is based on an acute and accurate analysis of the problems we face and its strategies offer a promising framework for best practice.”
Mencap want their New Big Plan to have real a community-focus, informed by real data about what is working and not working and creating the means for significant social change. Its focus on equity and positive action, whilst commendable, perhaps ought to be taken as a given. However its goals of simplicity and agility might well help create a more vital spark change at an individual and community level.
Mencap’s strategic direction seems to be a combination of localism and individualism combined with an asset-based approach. There is also an acknowledgement that they must work with other organisations to achieve the best possible outcomes for people with learning disabilities, and for the UK to be the best place in the world for people to be happy and healthy, is a promising first step.
As Edel Harris, CEO of Mencap says:
“This is an exciting time in Mencap’s history. As we approach our 75th anniversary, it is the right time to set a new course for the future which will benefit from our rich experience and reach. Together with our partners and most importantly led by people with a learning disability, we have an opportunity to do something bold, that will bring about lasting, positive change for individuals, communities and society.”
There are big questions about how to make the leap from strategic intention to operational delivery and there are many open questions remaining on how new approaches can influence existing practice and how finite funds and resources can be redeployed differently to achieve the New Big Plan in tangible and measurable ways.
Influencing change seems to require a profound cultural shift away from being a significant and long-established provider towards being a broker and mobiliser of resources, shaped and influenced by contemporary cutting-edge thinking ‘outside the box.’ Change is needed, change is inevitable and Edel’s ambitions provide us with a beacon of hope amidst the uncertainties of the Coronavirus pandemic, Brexit and further austerity. Let us hope, as seen during the pandemic, that as a community we can pull together to achieve the radical change we desire for people with learning disabilities and autism.
1. Parmi Dheensa introduced: https://includemetoo.org.uk/racism-disability-equality-an-agenda-overdue/
It was noted that LeDeR reports higher death rates at a younger age for people from BAME populations.
2. Maldaba healthapp was mentioned during the session – it is a tool to help people access good health and give people a voice, it was stated it is accessible for people with complex needs: https://www.maldaba.co.uk/case_studies/my-health-guide/
The publisher is the Centre for Welfare Reform.
Mencap's New Strategy © Clive Tuck and Amanda Topps 2020.
All Rights Reserved. No part of this paper may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher except for the quotation of brief passages in reviews.