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People with Disabilities: Reporting Abuse

Volume 798: debated on Monday 17 June 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the adequacy of the support received by people with a disability when they report any form of abuse to appropriate authorities.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her Question. Support for people who wish to make a complaint about health services is available from the independent NHS Complaints Advocacy service. The Ask, Listen, Do programme is aimed at making giving feedback and raising concerns and complaints about education, health and social care easier for children, young people and adults with a learning disability or autism, their families and carers. We will take steps to empower independent mental health advocates to raise concerns when they know that something is not right.

I thank the Minister for her response, but she will be aware that, according to the Crown Prosecution Service, disabled people and those with a learning disability are at a higher risk of crime, particularly hate crime and economic fraud, than the general population. They also experience unequal access to justice and safety.

The Mental Health Foundation last autumn produced a report which highlighted the underreporting of learning disability crimes and hate crime and it made some recommendations. Have the Government taken on board any of the recommendations aimed specifically at government and police; namely, to standardise police reporting systems so as to ensure that learning disability hate crimes are correctly recorded and adjustments made to support the victims when reporting an incident?

This week, the Government launched a task force to tackle economic fraud, but vulnerable people seem not to have been included in it. When will the Government establish good practice that is standardised to include and protect disabled people?

The noble Baroness has raised a very important issue: she is absolutely right that those with learning disabilities are more at risk from hate crimes and less likely to report those crimes. This is exactly why a number of programmes have been introduced to support those with learning disabilities or autism to raise a complaint, such as the Ask, Listen, Do programme. I am very interested to hear about the report she mentioned: I will take that away in order to learn more about whether its recommendations can be implemented.

My Lords, during consideration of the draft domestic abuse Bill, the Joint Committee heard evidence from disabled groups about abuse in the home, sometimes from family members, sometimes from carers. I hope that the Minister’s department will join in consideration of the report of the Joint Committee, which was published last Friday, to ensure that the needs of disabled people with regard to domestic abuse are properly considered and addressed.

I am happy to give the noble Baroness that commitment. Domestic abuse in any situation is absolutely unacceptable and we are happy to commit to supporting her.

My Lords, a reverse of the abuse that the noble Baroness commented on was highlighted at a meeting in this House only two or three weeks ago, when we had a whole load of international psychologists around. A couple were there who said that their son, who is a lawyer but is on the spectrum, had a meltdown one Friday night. He was arrested and stayed in prison until Monday night/Tuesday morning because there was absolutely nobody around who was able to verify that he had this problem. I suggest to the Minister that one of our biggest problems is that there is not enough knowledge, by the police or by others, about how to handle such occasions.

I thank my noble friend for raising this matter and I am very sorry about the experience he highlighted. One of the measures that has been implemented in order to improve this situation is liaison services between police and mental health trusts to ensure that expertise is on the ground should individuals find themselves in situations such as he described. This has dramatically reduced the number of such situations. I would be very happy to write to him giving examples of where this has improved the situation.

My Lords, it is important to consider also that there are various ways in which people with disability might be prevented from reporting abuse in the first place. In particular, some people with learning difficulties might not understand or recognise that they are being abused psychologically or financially. Does the Minister agree that information regarding abuse needs to be produced in accessible formats, such as easy read, and should ideally be produced in conjunction with people with disability themselves?

Absolutely. The right reverend Prelate makes a very sensible, common-sense point: this is exactly why work is going on between the NHS and the ombudsman to ensure that, within the NHS, there is a sensible and consistent complaints process that is accessible to all who try to make a complaint within the system, no matter their circumstances.

My Lords, I declare my interest as chair of the National Mental Capacity Forum. Do the Government recognise that many people are frightened of reporting any form of abuse, because of recriminations? Even when they do, they are asked for evidence of the abuse and it may be very difficult for them to provide any kind of objective evidence. Therefore, within the whole care sector we need a change in culture: we need staff to learn ways of dealing with some of the most challenging behaviours that they may face, recognising those and differentiating them from other forms of aggression, which may be drug or alcohol-fuelled, or whatever. That requires investment, so that the CQC and other organisations, in inspecting, will look at the quality of education provided to staff at every level. It is often the lowest-paid staff who need the most education and they cannot access it.

As ever, the noble Baroness speaks with experience and wisdom. Speaking up and raising concerns where there has been abuse or where something has gone wrong should be straightforward and met with openness and a desire to get to the bottom of the problem. She is absolutely right that there is often a cultural barrier—a fear of aggression or recrimination. A patient or carer making a complaint should feel that they will be listened to and believed, but a staff member raising a concern should also feel that there are safe avenues for them to do so. That is why we have put in place the national guardian and the “freedom to speak up” guardian. When it comes to carers and patients, that is also why we are working with the ombudsman to ensure that there are clear routes of complaint across the whole NHS so that it is straightforward for people to make complaints and they feel that these avenues are protected for them.