[Phil Wilson in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered supporting and safeguarding adults with learning disabilities.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson, as we consider this hugely important issue. How we better support and safeguard adults with learning disabilities is a subject on which I have been seeking to secure a debate for some time, following the most appalling case involving a young man with learning disabilities from my constituency and his violent death back in June 2015.
The circumstances leading up to Lee Irving’s killing have been the subject of a safeguarding adults review which was published in June 2017, following the trial and sentencing of those responsible which finally concluded in December 2016. I will return to Lee’s case and the outcome of the review in more depth, but first I will briefly provide some context to the debate.
About 1.4 million to 1.5 million people with a learning disability are estimated to live in the UK, of whom some 350,000 have a severe learning disability. The charity Mencap, which describes itself as the leading voice of learning disability, replies to the question, “What is a learning disability?” by explaining:
“The answer is that it’s different for every person who has one. But there are some things that are true for everyone with a learning disability, and some common (and not so common) conditions that will mean you have a learning disability.”
Mencap goes on to state:
“A learning disability is a reduced intellectual ability and difficulty with everyday activities—for example household tasks, socialising or managing money—which affects someone for their whole life.
People with a learning disability tend to take longer to learn and may need support to develop new skills, understand complicated information and interact with other people.
The level of support someone needs depends on the individual.”
Importantly, Mencap concludes:
“It’s important to remember that with the right support, most people with a learning disability in the UK can lead independent lives.”
I saw that for myself in Dinnington in my constituency when I visited the home of the then 18-year-old Joe to hear about how he was being supported by the national charity United Response during the transition from childhood to adulthood. That involved providing Joe with tailored assistance in a supported housing setting to help master tasks such as managing money, basic cooking skills, cleaning the house, keeping up with the laundry, managing his coursework on his construction course at the local mainstream college, and being able to use public transport safely.
One of the concerns that Joe raised with me during that visit was his disappointment that he had been prevented from securing an apprenticeship because he was unable to achieve the required grade C in maths and English at GCSE. I am pleased, as one of the co-chairs of the all-party parliamentary group on apprenticeships, that that requirement has recently been lifted for people with learning disabilities, following a review conducted by the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard).
I am regularly lobbied by constituents with learning disabilities who, with the support and encouragement of the Newcastle-based charity Better Days, are able to send me easy-read letters about issues of concern, such as the lessons to be learned from the independent review of deaths of people with a learning disability conducted following the tragic death of Connor Sparrowhawk, or the Government’s decision no longer to provide funding to the National Forum of People with Learning Disabilities, which meant it closed in March 2017, having been operational since 2001.
There is a variety of good support out there, but we all know that many people with learning disabilities, and their families and carers, will face a series of enormous challenges, barriers and indeed discrimination throughout their lives, all of which inevitably puts a great deal of strain on family relationships. What do those barriers involve for people with learning disabilities?
Mencap highlights that children with special educational needs are twice as likely as other children to be bullied regularly; 40% of disabled children live in poverty; and 75% of GPs have received no training to help them treat people with a learning disability. The House of Commons Library has noted the evidence that people with a learning disability experience inequalities in healthcare and the fact that, on average, men with a learning disability die 13 years sooner and women with a learning disability 20 years sooner than those without learning disabilities.
Learning Disability Today has reported on a survey that found that almost two thirds of parents of children with learning disabilities said that they missed social engagements in the past year due to the fear of how other people would react to them; one in four young people with a learning disability had been bullied by members of the public at nightclubs or concerts; and only 30% of people would feel comfortable sitting next to someone with a mild learning disability at a show or a concert.
That is an interesting suggestion. As a constituency MP, I work closely with the organisations I have mentioned so that I may correspond with and represent people with learning disabilities. There are local solutions and, potentially, national ways to support MPs. That is a good suggestion to ensure that those voices are heard in Parliament, and the intention of this debate is very much to give voice to some of the concerns. I am sure that other hon. Members are present for the very same reason.
The issues that I have outlined are just some of the frankly depressing ones faced by people with learning disabilities. Such issues were commented on by Mencap in its response to the Equality and Human Rights Commission report, “Being disabled in Britain: a journey less equal”, which was published earlier this year. In responding to the EHRC report back in April, Mencap commented:
“Rather than move forwards in the past 20 years this report shows how inadequate action and a constant stream of cuts have condemned disabled people to a life of poverty and inequality.
With the employment rate for people with a learning disability currently standing at less than 6% and with cuts to Employment Support Allowance coming into effect this week, it’s not hard to see why so many disabled people are struggling to find money for things as basic as food. People with a learning disability also face inadequate housing, poor access to health care and a society that misunderstands them.”
One challenge facing people with learning disabilities and their families is of course being able to access the right social care support at a time when adult social care budgets are at breaking point after years of punitive cuts to local authority funding since 2010, combined with rising cost pressures. The Local Government Association outlines that some 127,725 adults in England under the age of 65 were receiving long-term social care from their local council for a learning disability in 2015-16, meaning that about one third of councils’ annual social care spending, or approximately £5 billion, is used to support adults with learning disabilities.
The LGA also highlights, however, that the number of adults with a learning disability needing social care is set to rise by 3% a year, piling further pressure on local authority finances. Overall, councils face a £2.3 billion shortage in funding by 2020. I therefore strongly urge the Chancellor to address this issue next month as part of his autumn Budget, as well as the ongoing and serious concerns about the potential historic and future costs associated with sleep-ins, following the change in Government guidance on them, which have significant implications for the future provision of support to adults with learning disabilities.
As I said, there is a particular reason that I secured this debate, which I have been trying to do so for several months. Undoubtedly, all Members of Parliament frequently have to handle very distressing issues, and I have dealt with a lot.
My hon. Friend is making a valiant attempt. This is a very difficult subject and she is talking about a very distressing and tragic case. To go back to the point about greater public awareness, I have been a Member for 12 years and have certainly never been offered any training about learning disabilities. There is so much to know and she has just given us a useful range of facts. I encourage the Minister to take away what my hon. Friend has just raised as things we should all know.
I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. It is hard to imagine a more harrowing and disturbing case than that of Lee Irving. My thoughts remain very much with Lee’s family, particularly his mother, Bev, who I know is determined to ensure that something positive comes of her son’s death. I am sorry; I must do this subject the justice of staying composed. I am particularly conscious that Lee’s mother is watching this debate online in Newcastle and that having to relive what happened to her son clearly will always be upsetting. However, it is important that right hon. and hon. Members appreciate the gravity of this case.
Lee was a 24-year-old vulnerable young man with learning disabilities from the West Denton area of my constituency, who was tragically murdered in 2015. In the months leading up to his death, he was living on and off—perhaps existing would be a better word—with a group of people he had befriended and trusted, at their home in the Kenton Bar area of Newcastle. During that time, he was the victim of sustained abuse and exploitation. Lee’s mother, Bev, had reported him missing on three occasions in the weeks before his death, and indeed had alerted the authorities to where he was staying and of her serious concerns about Lee’s safety, given the previous behaviour of those individuals towards her son.
Tragically, Lee’s badly beaten body was found on 6 June 2015, dumped on a grass bank near the A1 in Newcastle, not far from the house he had been occupying with those who were accused of his murder. The cause of Lee’s death was given as respiratory failure due to multiple severe injuries that were inflicted upon him at the house in Kenton Bar between 28 May and 5 June 2015. The injuries included fractures to his nose and jaw, the fracture of 24 ribs and damage to underlying organs, after he had been drugged with a combination of morphine, Valium and buprenorphine—medication used by heroin addicts—which enabled his attackers to conduct sustained physical beatings against him. The four people responsible for Lee’s death also prevented him from receiving the urgent medical attention that he clearly required on several occasions.
Following Lee’s death, a safeguarding adults review was established to hear from the myriad organisations and agencies involved in providing support to Lee and his family during his short life. The review explains:
“The relationship between Lee Irving and his killers was described as one of subservience with Lee beholden to the primary perpetrator”—
“for drugs and shelter and where Lee looked up to the primary perpetrator and desperate to fit in tolerated continued violence and abuse. This coercion and drugging were used to control him, prevent him seeking help and over a period of time drawing him back to the house at 33 Studdon Walk.”
Indeed, Mencap has informed me of its concern that Lee’s case is not an isolated one, commenting:
“There are many examples, both reported and unreported, of people with a learning disability who have been abused physically and psychologically by people who they thought were friends. This has given rise to the phrase ‘mate crime’, where individuals take advantage of someone’s vulnerabilities, bullying them physically, psychologically or stealing money or possessions.”
I believe that the safeguarding adults review instigated after Lee’s death raises serious issues, not just for Newcastle, but about how we, as a wider society, support and safeguard adults with learning disabilities. Vida Morris, chair of the Newcastle Safeguarding Adults Board, said after the review had been published:
“Lee’s story will be used locally, regionally and nationally to improve safeguarding and protect vulnerable adults.”
That absolutely must be the case.
It is evident from the review that Lee’s vulnerabilities, which were the result of his learning disability, were clearly identified by a number of local agencies some years before and right up to his death. On six occasions between 2010 and 2014, different organisations considered the risk to Lee to be such as to merit formal multi-agency adult safeguarding written referrals. Examples of Lee’s known vulnerability include an assessment undertaken by Percy Hedley School when he was nearly 18, which described him as
“socially immature and impressionable, a very vulnerable young man who could not ignore people who are distracting him, naive in social situations, easily influenced by others, and unable to identify people’s motivations and intentions.”
The national probation service in Northumbria had numerous interactions with Lee, as he was arrested 30 times between May 2011 and March 2015 for various offences. In December 2012, Lee was sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment for the offences of burglary and theft, and was
“treated as an adult fully responsible for his own actions and able to understand the consequences of the measures imposed.”
Yet the year before, in 2011, the NPS carried out an assessment of Lee and identified that he was
“incredibly vulnerable to the influence and harmful behaviour of others he encounters; that he was financially vulnerable from others. In addition, he was assessed as being vulnerable in custody and in a hostel setting.”
A further NPS assessment stated:
“Lee seems to understand that he is being used and bullied but seems to put up with it rather than be rejected by his peers.”
“Lee is not aware of the risks that he places himself in e.g. spending time with homeless people, sleeping rough, sharing taxis with strangers and giving his clothes and money away. His level of Learning Disability means that he behaves in a way which is focussed on pleasing people, to develop acceptance within groups and possibly to gain kudos through offending for others.”
Despite those assessments, no safeguarding alert was raised by the NPS about Lee Irving during its interaction with him in 2011 and 2012.
An assessment carried out in 2010—five years before Lee’s death—under the Mental Capacity Act 2005 confirmed that Lee’s overall reasoning and thinking abilities were the same as or better than only 0.2% of adults his own age. In other words, Lee’s intellectual abilities placed him in the bottom 1% of adults his own age. There is also a concern that Lee’s intellectual ability may at times have been overestimated, because his relatively better verbal skills may have masked his deficits in other areas.
In March 2015, shortly before Lee’s death, a further Mental Capacity Act assessment was undertaken, at which both he and his family were present, after his family reported that he had returned to live with the people who were exploiting him. That assessment identified that he did not have the capacity to make decisions to keep himself safe when alone in the community. The assessment resulted in an exploration of supported living options, which were still being explored at the time of his death.
The safeguarding adults review notes:
“Throughout his long engagement with services Lee failed to attend nearly half his numerous appointments with various services. While in his early teenage years his family often ensured his attendance, when in his late teens, his family’s influence declined and his chaotic lifestyle led to less frequent attendance at appointments, making it…difficult for…agencies to deliver the care and support that Lee needed.”
I find it hard to understand why that behaviour did not set more alarm bells ringing about Lee’s welfare, given that his vulnerabilities were well documented.
The review further states that
“Lee’s life slid into a chaotic cycle of offending, being reported missing and associating with so called ‘friends’ who exploited him. In October 2014 a decision was taken to award Lee with a direct payment—giving him control of some of his monies in order to directly purchase services or other forms of support… later that control passed to Lee himself.”
Again, given the circumstances in which Lee was living and the fact that his mother was already reporting that he was being financially exploited, I find that hard to understand.
Tragically, given what was to happen later, the police actually attended the address at which Lee was being held between 28 May and 5 June 2015, when we know that Lee was inside the house and already injured. However, no search was conducted, despite Lee having been reported missing by his mother, her belief that he was at the house and the police being aware of the extensive criminal records of those living at the property, including for violent offences.
The safeguarding review notes:
“It is clear that all agencies tried hard to deliver a service to Lee and/or his family but on many occasions this was made difficult due to Lee’s lack of engagement and his determination to keep bad company…these efforts were not adequately co-ordinated or led by each of the main agencies…Throughout the long engagement with agencies the lead changed according to the circumstances…Therefore, no agency was able to take overall responsibility for co-ordination and leadership, however, as noted in the report agencies were in contact on a regular basis with each other.”
The review adds:
“Lee Irving was a difficult person to help. His reluctance to engage with services and his failure to attend appointments made it extremely difficult for agencies to support him and his family. Despite this, agencies persisted in their attempts to help and protect him. It is clear that all agencies approached Lee Irving with the best of intentions.”
I continue from the review:
“Many agencies were involved in Lee’s complex case over a lengthy period. They saw him in different ways according to their discipline and…many did not appreciate the risk attached to his lifestyle and disability. There were, however, clear indications of Lee Irving’s vulnerabilities and recorded Safeguarding Alerts pointing to the threats present at the house at 33 Studdon Walk where he lived latterly and where he was killed…his specific vulnerabilities were accurately identified. The cumulative effects of these risk factors were not, however, weighed or considered in a multi-agency forum when planning for his care.”
The review also made clear:
“Perhaps as a consequence of a lack of co-ordination a number of options for intervening in the case of Lee Irving were not considered. No legal advice was sought from agencies solicitors and the possibility of Court of Protection proceedings or other legal options”—
deprivation of liberty—
“were not pursued.”
Whether any of those options would have succeeded in intervening in Lee Irving’s decline and eventual death will never be known.
Extremely worryingly, the safeguarding adults review suggested that:
“The behaviour of Lee was perhaps interpreted by some professionals as consistent with his choice of an antisocial and criminal lifestyle. Whilst not held by all agencies this interpretation meant that his criminal conduct was not always considered as a symptom of his disability, increasing vulnerability or the exploitation that he was subject to.”
Of particular concern to Lee’s mother, Bev, following her son’s death, are the challenges that parents of adult children with learning difficulties face in continuing to be involved in decisions about their care. The safeguarding adults review outlined that Lee’s family
“described the difference in the way professionals were able to respond to Lee as an adult as being frustrating and difficult to understand…Lee was…classed as an adult while his mental capacity remained that of a child”.
It also recorded that, on Lee reaching adulthood, Lee’s family
“felt excluded from some of the key decisions about his care. They felt that some professionals excluded or disregarded them and that decisions about options for the ongoing care of their family member were made without their input. In particular, they express severe concern that despite their specific warnings about Lee’s living conditions at the home at Studdon Walk, the measures taken to protect him were unsuccessful.
In conclusion, the family felt that while more should have been done to protect Lee towards the end of his life such was Lee’s determination to place himself at risk that only secure accommodation would have protected him. Whilst they had resisted this option at the time, with the benefit of hindsight they recognise that other measures were unlikely to have succeeded.”
Indeed, following the publication of the review in June, Lee’s mother, Bev, commented:
“Nobody listened to each other, but my main concern was nobody listened to me. If I had been listened to, then my son would still be alive now. I had my son reported missing three times in the previous few weeks up until his death and they wouldn’t bring him back. They wouldn’t inform me where he was, which I find very, very hurtful. It’s disgusting.”
In response to that, the director of people at Newcastle City Council stated:
“I know that Lee’s family felt excluded from some of the decisions that were taken about his care and that their warnings about his living conditions were not acted upon effectively. For that we are truly sorry.”
The safeguarding adults review highlighted that Lee’s family “had two main recommendations” following their son’s death. First, that
“the move from Children’s to Adults’ services be better managed to ensure a smoother transition without loss of support and that services consider the capacity rather than the age of the individual.”
“families remain part of the decision-making process in the case of vulnerable adults and be fully involved/consulted on ‘best interest’ and other decisions relating to family members.”
Bev Irving has explained that she hopes those changes will be made so that, in her words,
“Lee’s name can live on in the name of Lee’s law”.
I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to the recommendations and whether the Government can act on them to help ensure that the lessons from Lee’s case are genuinely learned across the country.
There is one further aspect to the case that I find deeply concerning. James Wheatley was found guilty of murdering Lee in December 2016. His mother, Julie Mills, his then girlfriend, Nicole Lawrence, and Barry Imray, who also had learning disabilities, were found guilty of, or admitted to, conspiring to pervert the course of justice and causing or allowing the death of a vulnerable person. Wheatley was sentenced to a minimum 23-year term and the original sentences of Mills and Lawrence were increased after the Crown Prosecution Service successfully appealed them as being unduly lenient, with the support of the Solicitor General. I know that the family are grateful for that.
Both the CPS and Northumbria police believed that the multiple and horrific offences perpetrated against Lee were motivated by his disability. Indeed, the safeguarding adults review commenced with that view. However, the trial judge, in his sentencing remarks, told Wheatley that
“In order to reach the conclusion”
that the offence was aggravated by disability
“the statute requires me to be sure that, at the time of committing the offence or immediately before or after doing so, you demonstrated hostility towards Lee Irving based on his disability or that your offence was motivated by hostility towards persons who have this or any disability. I am not satisfied on either basis. Although your texts”
to one of the other accused
“show repeated use of the repellent word ‘spastic’, I am not able to infer that such language was used towards Lee Irving at the time or immediately before or after your murderous assault. Furthermore, in my judgment you were motivated in this offence not by hostility towards those with disability but by your vicious and bullying nature which particularly takes advantage of those who are unable or less able to resist.”
That calls into question whether the current legislation—section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which provides for an aggravated sentence—is fit for purpose, as it is unclear how anyone could prove a disability hate crime under the threshold unless the perpetrator made such an admission. I raised this issue with the Solicitor General, to which I received a response that the judge’s
“finding that the offences were not motivated by hostility is a finding of fact. Such findings are incredibly difficult…to challenge on appeal to the Court of Appeal, since I need to satisfy the court not only that the judge was plainly wrong, but also that it is in the interests of justice to overturn his finding of fact.
My decision was that I would not succeed in overturning the finding of fact in this particular case. I only reached this conclusion after receiving advice from the leading counsel at trial, the CPS’ hate crime stakeholder manager, and a senior barrister who is a specialist in these kind of cases. I also looked at general advice from First Senior Treasury Counsel, the Government’s most senior barrister in criminal matters, on how to apply the hate crime provisions.”
I am aware that the CPS has recently published revised guidance setting out the factors to be taken into consideration when reviewing cases and prosecuting offences classified as disability hate crime. However, in Lee Irving’s case the issue was not with the police or CPS not recording or prosecuting the barbaric offences committed against him as disability hate crimes but that the judge could not be sure that, at the time of committing the offence, or immediately before or afterwards, the perpetrator demonstrated hostility towards Lee based on his disability, or that the offence was motivated by hostility towards people with disabilities—the threshold set in the existing legislation. That is concerning at a time when we know that disability hate crime is a significant issue.
Mencap highlights that some 73% of people with a learning disability and autism responding to a 2016 Dimensions survey said that they had experienced hate crime, while recorded hate crime based on disability has increased by 44% since last year. The true extent of the problem is being masked by people with a disability or learning disability who are too scared or do not feel able to report incidents. I strongly urge the Minister to ensure that the Government look at this issue again, in the light of Lee’s case, although I am conscious that it is not within her departmental remit.
I fully recognise that I have raised a number of wide-ranging issues this afternoon, many of which do not fall directly within the Minister’s portfolio. However, I am pleased to have been able to put on record the different, and very important, concerns that Lee’s mother has raised with me following her son’s death. Those ultimately responsible for Lee Irving’s horrific abuse and murder are now locked up in prison where they belong. Indeed, thanks to the intervention of the Solicitor General, some sentences were increased for being unduly lenient. However, the current legislation needs to be reviewed, because if Lee’s case could not be regarded as a disability hate crime, it is hard to know how the current threshold could be met.
I have also outlined how important it is for adults with learning disabilities to receive the right care and support to enable them to live independent lives where that is appropriate. However, I have real concerns about the issues raised by Lee’s case, and the fact that those charged with safeguarding Lee—an extremely vulnerable adult—did not get the balance right between independence and protection. Nor does it appear that the many agencies that interacted with Lee shared information with each other about his vulnerabilities, or properly listened to or acted on the concerns repeatedly raised by his family, which might have resulted in Lee still being here today.
It is critical that lessons are learned from Lee Irving’s case as quickly as possible, right across the country. I look forward to hearing from the Minister how she intends to ensure that that will be the case.
I will not make a long intervention, but I put on the record my thanks to the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) for raising that case, which was clearly a distressing one, as the emotions she has shown illustrate. What she said about the safeguarding rules is absolutely crucial, and all our county councils could take note of those and ensure that they follow them clearly. My concern is always about the gap that might exist between the safeguarding rules that apply to children and those that apply to young adults. The gap that can emerge there causes many problems, so the more we can do about it, the better.
I make a suggestion to the hon. Lady. She has raised a lot of concerns about the law, and I wonder whether, if she could gather together enough evidence to make a presentation to the Select Committee on Justice, it might be willing to take up an inquiry into a review of this area, which would provide further support for her efforts to change the law. I cannot speak for the Justice Committee, even though I am a member of it, but I think it is worth her trying to gather as much information as possible to take that forward.
I completely agree with the hon. Lady that we need to look after people with learning disabilities. In my constituency we try to do that in a number of ways outside the country council system. First, the Ways & Means Trust’s operation in my constituency tries to provide in-work experience for young people with learning disabilities by providing them with garden centre experience. They are trained in how to look after flowers, how to bag pots—if hon. Members see what I mean—and eventually how to sell them. At Christmas time in particular, it is a useful place to go to get wreaths and things like that, made by people with learning disabilities. That is a good way of showing that we care and of providing them with enormous opportunities to fulfil their lives by holding jobs that are meaningful and keep them in work.
Secondly, an event called the Regatta for the Disabled occurs in my constituency every autumn. I have been involved since its commencement some seven years ago, usually in opening and compering it. The regatta provides an opportunity for people with physical and learning disabilities to enjoy the river. It provides boat trips for them and allows them to share with others their enjoyment of life and what they can do. One would need to be there to see their physical enjoyment of life; it is absolutely catching. I point that out as a way in which my own constituency tries to look after people with learning disabilities.
Finally, every year, with the help of Mencap, we bring together all those people with learning disabilities who are able to come in the town square in Henley, and we sing to the population who come along and do their shopping, stop and have a cup of coffee and listen to the singing. The quality of the singing and the enthusiasm with which people with learning disabilities take it up are amazing. I am convinced that, by putting the effort into ensuring that we understand and care for people with learning disabilities, we can achieve a vast amount.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson, and to sum up the debate on behalf of the Scottish National party. It is customary at this stage to congratulate the hon. Member who has brought the debate, but those words do not do justice to what the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) has brought before us.
This is an incredibly tragic, harrowing and cruel case, and she has done her constituent and his family a great service in bringing it to the House. She should be congratulated on her perseverance in ensuring that the story was heard today; the manner in which she covered such tragic and horrendous issues was commendable and incredibly honourable. I pay considerable tribute to her for her contribution and I thank her for it, and I am sure the House does also. I am also sorry that there were not more hon. Members in the Chamber to hear what happened. I am sure we all, as constituency MPs and representatives as well as parliamentarians, will have taken note of what happened in Lee Irving’s case, and will hopefully have learned lessons for ourselves and our local services as well.
The case that the hon. Lady raised covered unspeakable cruelty and was harrowing and devastating to hear; it was probably one of the hardest things I have had to hear in my time as a parliamentarian, particularly in the Chamber. Most concerning are Mencap saying that this is possibly not an isolated case and the history of missed opportunities in the handling of Lee’s case, with clear warning signs and failures from a variety of services that should have supported him to get on, but sadly let him down.
I am also very sorry for Lee’s mother, Bev; if she is watching and listening, this will be incredibly difficult. As a father, my worst nightmare must be losing a child, but to do so in such cruel and painful circumstances must be an incredible torment. My heart goes out to her. It is unspeakable, and I am so glad that, in the end, it appears that justice has been done and that those murderers are behind bars and serving the time they deserve for their horrible crime.
Most aspects of the issues discussed are devolved, so forgive me for raising some of what is happening in Scotland. It would not be right for me to comment too heavily on aspects of the case, as much of it is a matter for England and Wales. The SNP Government acknowledge that transformational change is needed for disabled people of all ages to realise their full potential. That is why the Scottish Government are working with partners towards the long-term ambition of halving the disability employment gap in Scotland. In 2015, the employment rate in Scotland for those who were Equality Act-disabled was 42%, compared with 80.3% for those who were not. It was 73.1% for the total population aged 16 to 64. We will work to reduce the barriers to employment for disabled people and will redress the imbalance of disabled people making up only 12% of the private and public sector workforce in Scotland.
The SNP Government are also working with the national skills agency, Skills Development Scotland, to make modern apprenticeships more open, attractive and available to people with disabilities. The SNP is also committed to promoting and protecting equality and human rights for disabled people. We want to make sure that disabled people can take part fully in all areas of daily and public life. We are working to break down the barriers to independent living that people may face. Living an independent life is important to people with learning disabilities. That means having the same choice and control in their lives that others have.
The Scottish Government have taken practical steps such as supporting disabled and young people and their families from birth, through school and into the world of work. We are also investing £5.4 million over the next two years to improve learning disability services in Scotland. We are continuing our work to create a fairer and more equal society through our draft delivery plan, which sets out the steps we will take over the next four years to implement the United Nations convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. We are also consulting disabled people and the organisations that represent them, including the likes of Mencap, to bring the voice of disabled people into the heart of Government in Scotland.
We are committed to the independent living fund and will protect the funding for it. The Deputy First Minister announced in April 2014 that the new Scottish independent living fund would be set up following the decision here in Westminster to close the fund. On 1 July 2015, the Independent Living Fund Scotland came into force and now administers the Scottish and Northern Irish independent living fund service users’ awards. The scheme will safeguard more than 3,000 disabled people across Scotland and will build on existing care through a £5.5 million investment, which will reopen to new users, ensuring its long-term future.
Clearly, there is more work to be done with ILF Scotland, but I am confident that Scottish Ministers can and will continue to support that service. We also passed the Social Care (Self-directed Support) (Scotland) Act 2013, which embodies the ideas of equality, human rights and independent living. The Act is designed to give those who require community care more choice and control over the social care they receive and will integrate the language of self-direction into support in legislation. The Scottish Government also legislated to better integrate the provision of adult health and social care with more joined-up working between local authorities, health boards and third sector organisations.
Again, I congratulate and pay tribute to the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North. I wish to put on the record my deep condolences again to Bev, Lee’s mother, at a time when the cruel and unspeakable death of her son is being raised in such a public way again. If nothing else comes from this debate, I desperately hope that the fact that this case has been heard today in such a public setting will trigger the people responsible for the care of vulnerable adults with learning disabilities to always press a little bit harder to save a life.
Thank you, Mr Wilson. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, and it is always a pleasure to follow the spokesman for the SNP who, during my time as the Minister for Disabled People, was one of the most constructive Opposition Members and engaged regularly with good proactive ideas.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell), who set out the horrific case of Lee Irving. There is no other way of describing it. Nobody could fail to be touched by the pure emotion that was shown, which is no surprise, because the system failed somebody so vulnerable. It should never have happened.
We have two Ministers here today, the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) and the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), who I know care deeply about the most vulnerable people in society. They have listened and, I have no doubt, will take this matter forward. I hope that one of the commitments today will be for them to meet with the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North and with Beverley to learn the lessons. We cannot put the clock back, but we need to make sure that such a case never ever happens again.
What horrified me most was all of the warnings and the fact that the family had flagged up that they felt they were not part of the decisions. The hon. Lady summed it up when she said that Lee was treated as an adult, but really he was a child. Yes, he was. We have to do everything we can collectively to make sure that the lessons are learned. The two Ministers are best equipped to do that. I know that they care deeply. It is good that the matter has been flagged up today because that is the best way that we can make a difference.
I was proud to serve as a disabilities Minister. I did a lot of national news and interviews, which were normally quite tricky. That was when I heard for the first time the statistic that only 6% of those with a learning disability could expect to find employment, in contrast with around 80% of people across the population. That is by far the worst statistic of any disability. Yet at the same time, when we meet anybody with a learning disability, particularly young people, they have an incredible amount of enthusiasm, energy and determination. It is not necessarily the case that all of them will be able to have a full-time job. For some, an hour a week is the equivalent of landing a dream job. We talk to their families and friends, and people with learning disabilities are all united in wanting an opportunity to contribute and to feel part of society.
I was greatly impressed when I visited Foxes hotel in Bridgwater. It was one of my favourite visits. The hotel had taken part in a TV programme, which I had seen, so I recognised some of the young adults when I went there. I was star-struck and demanded lots of photographs.
The hotel offered a three-year course for the young adults. There were two roles. In the first role, they developed independent living skills. They would start by being heavily supervised and over the three years would become more and more independent until the end of their three-year experience, when they would go into a separate house. That equipped them with the skills they needed to have the best chance to live independently, because once people get to 25, they really need them. A lot of these people rely on their family and friends, and the biggest fear for family and friends relates to when their health starts to fail, because who will be there to look after them? The course was brilliant and the young adults were really well equipped.
The second part involved developing skills that would give the young adults an opportunity to work. The hotel worked with the other hotels, restaurants and care homes across Bridgwater and the surrounding areas to train them in the skills where there were job vacancies. It was key that there were job vacancies for them. Towards the end, they would spend their final year working in the hotels, restaurants and care homes and taking on different roles. They were supervised with patient training, because it takes them longer to pick up a role, but by the end the vast majority remained in employment. Some 80% remained in employment, of which half were paid.
The course was brilliant. One lad I saw celebrated his birthday shortly afterwards. His employers baked him a cake and they sent me a wonderful picture. I was really touched by that. We made sure that each and every one of those young adults was given the best opportunity to have an independent life and to participate and engage constructively in society, and the employers benefited. They were not doing this for charity, but were filling skills gaps. Yes, they had to be more patient with the training, but they ended up with somebody who was enthusiastic, who always turned up on time, who always had a big smile on their face and who made their workforce better, so they came back year after year.
I called the headteacher involved and she was very cynical about politics, which she made clear in her speech. We all hear those. We go on visits and they do not always roll out the red carpet when we turn up. However, she saw my enthusiasm and acknowledged that in her speech. I said to her, “I need to talk to you in more detail. I need to understand why there isn’t a Foxes hotel in every single constituency,” so she came to Parliament.
Ultimately, it came down to two things. The first was the postcode lottery of funding. In some towns we have brilliant examples where things go really well, but there are too many towns where the system is not joined up, where there are not the opportunities and where there is too much demand and not enough supply.
Secondly, that final year, which is a supervised work placement, was very expensive. That capped the number of young adults who were given that amazing opportunity. That was when I said, “Why is this not an apprenticeship?”. It is work-based learning, something that all politicians support. We all want more apprenticeships. They said they could not access the apprenticeship system, because most of the young adults would not get a grade C in GCSE maths and English.
I therefore organised a meeting with the then Minister at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles). I said to him, “We have got to get this sorted,” and he agreed 100%. His officials fell about on the floor and had to be scraped back up and gently reminded him, “We don’t want to dilute the perceived quality of apprenticeships.” I said, “I don’t care; rename it. Call it a disability apprenticeship. We just need access to the funding. I am not proud how we do it.” We came up with a cunning plan to ask my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), now the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, to head a taskforce. We gave him about four weeks, because we suspected we might not be the decision makers beyond that time, and we were right. We needed to get things in motion and I am delighted that the proposal is now coming on line. I hope that it will allow the left and right hands to join together, to give those young people an opportunity.
The Solicitor General has been fantastic about disability hate crime. When I lobbied to make the justice system better, he was really engaged. It is great that there has been an increase in reporting. The system is getting better, but there is still a long way to go, and the case that we have heard about today highlights that hate crime was not recognised. My legal knowledge is based on watching “Columbo” on a Sunday, so I do not profess to be an expert, but it is clear that advantage was taken of Lee’s disability. In my mind there is no discussion: the offence should have been categorised as disability hate crime. The Government, including the Solicitor General, are engaged on that issue, and we should all keep passing on examples of how the law is or is not working. The Government are determined to get that right.
I have four quick requests. We must embrace innovation and technology. I loved going to events where we, as a nation, were spearheading brilliant new products to help people with learning and other disabilities with their everyday lives. We can be a world leader in that.
Secondly, let us not forget the power of sport. Nothing matches the time when I took part in a learning disability netball game. I thought the other participants were going to explode with excitement. They were people who had never had the opportunity to exercise and many of them were overweight. One young adult had lost three stone over the summer. I have never seen people more enthusiastic about an opportunity to engage. I urge the Minister to continue to remind Ministers at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport about the power that sport has. Thirdly, tackling the postcode lottery is an absolute must.
Finally, we should not forget the families. They face a huge challenge. Many of those I met were families that had a good network of support, which was how they got through the postcode lottery, but many carers are not best equipped to navigate an incredibly complicated system, and ultimately it is the vulnerable people for whom they are responsible who miss out. We must all collectively do much better to improve the system. There is a lot of good practice; we just have to make sure that it is a given.
It is an honour to speak with you in the Chair, Mr Wilson. As other hon. Members have done, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell). It is usual to congratulate another Member on securing such an important debate, and she has been persistent in trying to secure this one; the dignified and passionate way in which she set out a deeply tragic case made it an important speech to listen to.
As my hon. Friend said, Lee Irving’s extreme vulnerability due to his learning disability was known about three years before the tragic murder of her constituent. It is disturbing that, despite knowing that, the national probation service did not raise an alarm or a safeguarding alert. As we heard, Lee was being treated as an adult, not a vulnerable adult. The failings highlighted by the safeguarding adults review in the case of Lee Irving included a failure to involve his family in decisions about his future. Mencap has also highlighted the fact that only 1% of hate crimes reported against disabled people result in prosecutions.
Mencap has also called for greater public awareness of learning disabilities. It is important that we have talked about that issue in this debate, and that we have realised that MPs do not have much training on it. Clearly, there is much to know, and many of us could help with that and bring about greater public awareness. I shall say more later about the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and the impact that it can have on the families of people with learning disabilities, and their ability to stay involved in decisions about vulnerable people such as Lee Irving. I share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North that lessons must be learned from his case. There is much to learn.
I want to mention the campaign Justice for LB, which was set up to campaign on learning disability issues following the tragic death of Connor Sparrowhawk while he was in the care of Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North touched on the case earlier. We have discussed issues at Southern Health a number of times in debates, because Members of the House have had deep concerns about the safety of the care and services provided by the trust. Connor Sparrowhawk was left to drown in a bath; and there were many other deaths. The Mazars investigation, commissioned by NHS England, looked at all deaths at the trust between April 2011 and March 2015. It found that during that period 10,306 people had died. Most deaths were expected, but 1,454 were not. The likelihood of an unexpected death being investigated by the trust depended on the type of patient. The most likely group of deaths to be investigated was deaths among adults with mental health problems, of which 30% were investigated. For those with a learning disability the figure was just 1%. Parents and families left bereaved and grieving want to see accountability, but too often they do not.
There has not, for example, been accountability at Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust. In fact, the opposite has happened. Last October, I asked the Health Secretary to investigate the way the Southern Health Trust created a sideways move, to an advisory role at the same salary, for Katrina Percy, the chief executive who was criticised for leading the trust through the time when it failed to investigate all those patient deaths. Six weeks later she resigned from that newly created advisory role and received a £190,000 salary pay-off that was signed off by the Department of Health and the Treasury. How does the Minister think that makes bereaved and grieving parents feel? Justice for LB called the pay-off “utterly disgraceful”, and I agree with that, but the Health Secretary would not investigate it.
Campaigns such as Justice for LB are asking that provision for people with learning disabilities should be an integral part of health and care services—not a specialist branch that can be ignored, as it appears to have been ignored at the trust in question. They believe that the law should be changed so that every unexpected death in a secure or locked unit is automatically investigated independently. It is also an important point of crossover with the case that my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North put so well today that they want to stop the Mental Capacity Act 2005 being used to distance families and isolate people—particularly young people.
The Justice for LB campaign, which obviously focuses on different issues from those relating to Lee Irving, has asked for a critical look to be taken at the system of inspection and regulation under which catastrophic events have happened—as they have: from Winterbourne View to the Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust there are too many. Sadly, failures carry on over many years. Last week, Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust was fined £125,000 after a prosecution in the case of a patient who fell from the roof of the mental health complex of Melbury Lodge in Winchester. The prosecution was brought following the injuries sustained by a patient known as Mr AB. Since 2010, a number of patients detained under the Mental Health Act 1983 had climbed onto the roof of Melbury Lodge in a bid to abscond. The trust’s own security review had recommended safety measures, including anti-climb guttering, but those improvements had not been made.
Mr AB had climbed on to the roof earlier, in March 2012, slipping twice and nearly falling before he was brought down. Three years later, he was admitted to Melbury Lodge again. His family were so worried that he might try again to abscond and climb on to the roof that they asked the staff to keep a close eye on him. However, in the early hours of a morning in December 2015, Mr AB again climbed on the roof of the lodge and fell to the ground, sustaining very serious neck injuries. Despite that accident, three more patients were able to gain access to the roof in February 2016, two months later, and one of them was injured.
The court was told that the trust had not taken action to deal with the risk as there was no money to spend on the remedial work. This is a trust that paid a consultancy firm more than £5 million for a contract originally tendered for £288,000, while another firm was awarded a contract for £600,000, for which it did not even have to bid. It makes things worse that both companies awarded contracts were run by former colleagues of the trust’s chief executive, Katrina Percy. Nearly £6 million of NHS funding went from that trust to a company called Talent Works, described as experts in culture and behaviour change. It is not good enough that an NHS trust spends £6 million on culture and behaviour change consultants when it cannot get the basics right and safeguard its patients or a young person put in its care.
Those events, and everything we have heard in the debate, leave us questions to answer, which I will put to the Minister. Why were only 1% of the unexpected deaths of people with learning disabilities at a trust such as Southern Health investigated? Why do only 1% of hate crimes against people with learning disabilities result in prosecutions? Parents from both campaigns for better safeguarding of people with learning disabilities urge us to stop the Mental Capacity Act being used to distance those families and isolate people, particularly young people.
My hon. Friend spoke powerfully of the need to give families of adult children with learning disabilities much clearer and increased rights over their adult child’s welfare. She highlighted well the horrific events that can occur when families do not remain part of the decision-making process. I will repeat, because they are important, the two recommendations of Lee Irving’s family. The first is that the move from children’s to adults’ services be better managed, to ensure a smoother transition without loss of support, and that services consider the capacity, rather than the age, of the individual. That was clearly an important factor in the case of Lee Irving. Secondly—and very importantly, because this matters to many families—they recommend that families remain part of the decision-making process in the case of vulnerable adults and are fully involved in and consulted on best interest and other decisions relating to family members.
In a dignified and passionate speech, my hon. Friend also argued convincingly of the need to introduce a new offence of disability hate crime, to send a clear message that what happened to Lee Irving will not be tolerated in 21st-century Britain. It is unusual to have such a small debate, but it has been worth while to lay out that case and make other points. We must continue to have an informed debate about the status of adults with learning disabilities as full citizens, but more important than anything is that we should listen to them and their families. We should remember the deeply disturbing words of Lee’s mother, Bev:
“nobody listened to me. If I had been listened to, then my son would still have been alive now.”
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson. I join everyone else in paying tribute to the dignified and passionate way in which the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) outlined her case. It is truly heartbreaking. Lee’s mother is watching today. She put her trust in the institutions of the state to care for her son, and we failed her. It should never have happened, and for that I am truly, truly sorry. I give the hon. Lady and Bev my commitment that I will take lessons from this. I hope the hon. Lady will act as my conscience in ensuring that I do so. The issues highlighted across the Chamber today need to be acted upon, to ensure that we do our best by all our constituents.
I was struck by the way that the hon. Lady talked more generally about people with learning disabilities. It is, frankly, the reason we all get involved in politics—we get involved in politics when we see the state failing and to make sure we do the best for everyone in society and for the people we can see being failed. I do not think that any group is failed more than people with learning disabilities. They have potential and the ability to live independently, but all too often they have been parked. My hon. Friends the Members for Henley (John Howell) and for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) outlined examples of where, with some support, people with learning disabilities can lead very productive lives, but it requires support and investment. Sadly, that is not always forthcoming, and without it, they are very vulnerable, as this tragic case all too clearly illustrates. We owe it to them and to ourselves, in order to make the best of society, to do all we can to help people with learning disabilities to live independent lives.
We need to do more to tackle the whole issue of prejudice. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North said she has been very persistent in trying to secure this debate, but perhaps it is fitting that the debate is happening in the middle of National Hate Crime Awareness Week. That is the perfect backdrop against which to address her case. It is fair to say that we are still early in the day when it comes to hate crime prosecution. There is slowness in reporting all hate crime, and suddenly people have become more aware.
People with learning disabilities are generally victims of quite widely held prejudice. It is not just the fact that they are targeted because of their disability; the agencies that should support them do not necessarily give them the support they need because of their disability. We have seen across the board, in so many examples of abuse, that particular social groups who are not the best at representing themselves do not always get a fair deal at the hands of the organisations that support them. We should look at that under the umbrella of hate crime, but it is slightly different; it is about prejudice more generally that we can all help to tackle. It is a very real inequality that we are tackling.
Central to our job as Members of Parliament is supporting people who have been victims of maladministration and who are not getting enough support from the state. In many cases, that is people with learning disabilities. I have always found that some of the most rewarding work I do as a Member of Parliament is in supporting people with learning disabilities. It is also the most inspiring, and it is great to see the enthusiasm that my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon referred to.
Unfortunately the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), is no longer in her place, but the fact that she was here is testimony to her support for this work. We are very keen that people with learning disabilities receive more attention. I give the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North that commitment, and we will continue to engage with her as this work develops.
I agree with the hon. Lady that people with learning disabilities are among the most vulnerable in our society, and it is the responsibility of all of us to protect them from risk. I will not pretend that we have got this perfect—there is a hell of a lot more to do. There has been significant progress in identifying and managing risk, but it is not consistent, and there are too many occasions when it just does not happen.
The hon. Lady articulated clear views on a specific case of hate crime. She will appreciate that that falls outside my bailiwick, but I will make a few observations, in so far as I can without treading on other Departments’ toes. As she said, the judge concluded that hate was not a factor in the motivation behind the crime. That is a matter for the courts, and it is for them to interpret, but I come back to the issue of prejudice. That case throws up a number of issues that we all need to be more vigilant about. We know that people with learning disabilities are very vulnerable to bad people, and bad people will find vulnerable people to prey on. I am aware that young women with learning disabilities are often preyed upon sexually, which is a real hidden issue that we need to think about. There is also the whole issue of modern slavery. People with learning disabilities are often subject to that. In this case, Lee was obviously being exploited financially by the people who murdered him.
I did not manage to raise the very important point that my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) raised about the fact that Lee Irving was labelled as difficult to help and classed as an adult who could choose a lifestyle, with such tragic results. That has echoes of other forms of abuse because, as my hon. Friend so clearly pointed out to us, his intellectual skills and reasoning were at 0.2% of those of adults of his age. Why were agencies saying that he could choose that awful lifestyle, which ended up having such a tragic result?
I totally agree with the hon. Lady. As she says, we have seen that in other cases of abuse. We can look at Rotherham and how the agencies behaved there. It is almost as if there is a view that, “He’s a bad ’un; he doesn’t deserve protection.” That is absolutely not the case. We need to be thinking about the person in a very person-centred way. It was very clear that Lee had a learning disability and did not have the capacity to act as an adult, yet he was treated as one. That is one of the real lessons of this case.
With specific regard to the requests of the family, the whole area of transition is certainly of concern to me. We see this issue in relation not just to learning disabilities, but to mental health. In both cases, families are often completely unable to influence support or care for their loved one; they are utterly powerless because they are in the control of institutions. We need to be learning the very clear lessons there.
We need to raise awareness of hate crime against people with disabilities. Too often, we look at hate crime through the prisms of race and gender. To be honest, we look at hate crime through those prisms because it is the victim of a hate crime who will raise it as such and, frankly, people with disabilities are in less of a position to do so. That said, things are getting better. As I said, it is early days for the offence and prosecution of hate crime, but I am told that in the past year the police have recorded an additional 5,558 disability hate crimes; the number is up by 53%. That suggests that people are more inclined to report it and that the police are more inclined to identify hate crime due to disability, but we continue to monitor the situation and see what else needs to be done to protect the vulnerable.
I appreciate the response that the Minister has given, but the increase in reporting of hate crime is very concerning. There are potentially two issues here. One is that people are more motivated or able to report hate crime, but it may be that there is a significant increase in hate crime as well. It is incumbent on the Government to find a way of monitoring that, so that we can understand whether this is a growing problem or whether there is just more success in terms of the reporting of the crime. We should not confuse the two.
That is a fair point. Data is everything, and as time progresses, we will build up more meaningful data, but certainly if crimes are being reported, they are more likely to be prosecuted. Even if the behaviour has been hidden, or if it is on the rise, at least prosecution can happen, but we need to tackle the behaviour first and foremost, to be frank. Prevention is always better than cure.
Under the hate crime action plan launched in July 2016, we committed to providing funding to community-led projects aimed at tackling hate crime. In the first year of the scheme, we funded nine projects across England and Wales covering all types of hate crime. We funded a project in Carlisle involving Mencap. It was to develop an education resource to raise awareness of disability hate crime and how to report it. The great thing about that was that it was created by people with learning disabilities for people with learning disabilities, so it was enabling and empowering the victims. I am advised that three of the projects for the second year of the programme will focus on tackling disability hate crime, but clearly there is more to do.
On 21 August 2017, the Crown Prosecution Service published revised public statements and legal guidance for all strands of hate crime, as well as a support guide for disabled victims and witnesses. One of the most telling things about the speech by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North was that it was in the interaction with the criminal justice system that perhaps the most decisive intervention to support Lee could have occurred. Again, we can do more. The Solicitor General is well aware of this matter and, I am sure, is already having discussions with the legal agencies about how we can spread good practice and perhaps look at guidance.
Safeguarding was obviously the real failing in this case. Clearly, we need a system that protects those at risk and acts on issues effectively; that did not happen in this case. As we have heard, once someone becomes an adult, it is very important that it has regard to their feelings and wishes, but the whole issue of mental capacity needs to be determined. In the Care Act 2014, there is a clear legal framework for safeguarding, which gives clear instruction on the responsibilities of local authorities and the rights of adults, but it is also important to involve their families and loved ones as and when necessary. Again, that is a very troubling aspect of this case.
We need to do better. We need to make clear what is expected of the various agencies under the Care Act. We are pursuing Making Safeguarding Personal, which is a sector-led improvement programme that aims to reinforce the placing of the individual at the centre of safeguarding. We are also working with the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services to improve that.
To come back to the issue of the criminal justice system, that was a missed opportunity to give Lee support. During the past two years, we have been working very hard to expand liaison and diversion services. It has been a good news story: more than 71,000 vulnerable adults have been taken out of the criminal justice system and instead put on an integrated health and justice pathway, helping them into health services and away from custody where appropriate. I can assure the hon. Lady that that is still a key part of how we will approach this issue. In fact, I met the team doing that work just last week.
To address the specific recommendations made by the family, the transition from children’s to adults’ services is clearly key. That is where things go wrong; we need to ensure that it is joined up. I always say that if we have a weak link in a chain, we can usually get over that, but if we have a succession of them, that is when things go terribly wrong. As the hon. Lady outlined, there were probably half a dozen in this case.
We are determined that young people with learning disabilities will be properly prepared for adulthood. We are looking at four specific areas: employment, good health, independent living and community inclusion. From the way the hon. Lady articulated Lee’s circumstances, I do not think he could have been judged to be meeting all four of those criteria by any stretch of the imagination, so we must ensure that the support network is in place to help to steer individuals through that, for as long as it takes. It can take a number of years, but the end goal is a good one if we are prepared to make that investment. If people are not ready, they must have support to prevent them from being exploited by those who would exploit people who are vulnerable.
Many people think that the Mental Capacity Act 2005 is very complex legislation, and clearly in this case not everyone knew their obligations under it. There was not a clear understanding of how far the family should have been involved when Lee’s mental capacity was clearly not that of an adult. We want to do a lot more work on educating people in this space. In 2015 we established, with the Ministry of Justice, the National Mental Capacity Forum, specifically to develop those messages and good practice across the sector.
We also have to look at deprivation of liberty safeguards. The Law Commission has recently published its report on mental capacity and deprivation of liberty, and I welcome the observations of the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North in the light of this case. Like all Law Commission reports, it is a very well-thought-out piece of work. It has had lots of investigation and engagement with stakeholders. We need to make sure that the law is proportionate in respecting people’s liberties, but can also be used to protect the vulnerable. That is clearly the test that we will apply.
We have heard that Lee struggled to navigate the system and that agencies did not work well to support him. Another important tool that will perhaps avoid cases like Lee’s in future is having a named social worker who owns the individual and their needs, and makes sure that those have been satisfied. I think that would make a big difference. We have the named social worker pilot scheme so that more people can have that personalised care and support. They can hold every agency responsible under care plans and be really person-centred, recognising that this is an individual with his own personality, needs and circumstances. That is a very important piece of work. It is our response to the 2015 consultation, “No voice unheard, no right ignored”, which sought views on strengthening the rights of people with learning disabilities, autism and mental health conditions, to enable them to live more independently.
The hon. Lady raised the case of Southern Health and Connor Sparrowhawk. I think we agree that sunlight is the best disinfectant, so all NHS trusts are now required to publish estimates of how many deaths they could have avoided had they been better. That includes the deaths of people with a learning disability. From June next year, trusts must also publish evidence of learning improvements that happen as a result of those data. We expect that the leaders of trusts should show some real accountability and leadership in how they deal with their duties under that requirement.
I want to give the hon. Lady plenty of time to speak at the end, because this is clearly a very important subject for her, but I will quickly add that one of the most important things we need to get right in supporting those with learning disabilities is to invest in good quality supported housing. That is central to encouraging independent living and to having the infrastructure in place to protect them from any potential exploitation.
The hon. Lady also raised the issue of costs and challenges. It is to be celebrated that people with learning disabilities are living longer—for a long time they were dying prematurely. That is a massive improvement in justice, but it does bring with it cash challenges, and obviously we are facing cash challenges across the sector. I wish that was easy to fix. It is not, but it is at the top of my in-tray, as I am sure both she and the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) will understand, and we are very keen to address it. On the specific issue of sleep-ins, which I know Mencap is very worried about, we are actively involved in discussions about how we can support the sector to deal with that.
To conclude, what happened to Lee was not the result of a single cause. There were a number of failings, as the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North articulately set out. I think there are real challenges: how the criminal justice system understands people with a learning disability, how all the agencies can work more effectively together and how we can provide support for people with a learning disability, so that we not only support, but protect them. We are taking action at a national level to address those. The permanent secretary at the Department of Health is about to convene a cross-departmental roundtable to look at how we can deal with this across Government.
I can give the hon. Lady my assurance that people with learning disabilities are a key priority of mine, and I look forward to making sure that we do not have to have a debate like this in future.
I am pleased to have been able to put the details of Lee Irving’s case on the parliamentary record, for his family and in the hope that some good can come out of this horrendous tragedy. Unfortunately, after seven years of representing the people in Newcastle North, I have not yet succeeded in growing a cold heart or cynicism. I wanted to remain composed in order to make the strongest case possible on behalf of Lee Irving and his family, but the sheer inhumanity of what happened to him shocked the local community and everybody here. Only a cold-hearted person would not be moved by what happened. There is not only upset, but anger and frustration on my part, that the system—our system—let them down so badly.
I thank hon. Members for their powerful and constructive contributions to the debate today—the hon. Members for Henley (John Howell) and for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), and both the SNP and Labour Front Benchers, but in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) for her timely intervention. I thank the Minister for a very sincere and encouraging response. That the Minister for disabled people has been present for this debate, and that the Government are listening so intently, will mean a lot to Lee’s family and anybody following these proceedings.
As well as listening, we need to make sure that the lessons that can be learnt from this case are learnt, as Lee’s family have reasonably requested. I understand what the Minister said about the funding situation, but I could not miss this opportunity, ahead of the Budget next week, to make that case for funding for local authorities, to make sure that we protect and safeguard the most vulnerable in our society. That is to make sure that our local authorities have the funding to put in place some of the measures that the Minister has outlined, because it cannot be done on the cheap. I appreciate that there is also a lot we can do on the funding issues, so I will continue, as invited, to work with the Government, the Department of Health, the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Communities and Local Government, to make sure that something good can come out of this horrific tragedy.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered supporting and safeguarding adults with learning disabilities.