New disability ruling causes concern

New council rules mean people with learning disabilities will no longer be able to take part in allowance-based work schemes by this summer.It will cut many people with conditions like Down's Syndrome out of their current stable schemes where they take part in wood working, gardening and other work-based skills for token allowances as low as 35 pence.

New council rules mean people with learning disabilities will no longer be able to take part in allowance-based work schemes by this summer.

It will cut many people with conditions like Down's Syndrome out of their current stable schemes where they take part in wood working, gardening and other work-based skills for token allowances as low as 35 pence.

To many the cash maybe a token gesture but according to their parents and carers it is what they have worked for and means a lot more to them than spending their days doing jigsaws.

But because Norfolk County Council's new rules, which it blames on central government, people with learning disabilities will either have to go into proper employment or work experience placements.

The latter will only be open to them for fixed periods of time, meaning they will have to work, and face the pressures of fully paid employment, or suffer the instability of short periods of time in different work places.

At a meeting held yesterday to discuss the problem, mothers Barbara Clark and Jenny Lawes, whose sons Phil, 38, and Mark, 35, have Down's Syndrome, said the new rules were too black and white and left their children with nowhere to go.

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They also feared it would mean centres like Holt Day Care Centre would close.

At the meeting, at the day care centre, Mrs Lawres said: “Paid employment will take them out of the jobs they like doing here and realistically Mark would not be able to do it.

“He might only get 35 pence a shift at the moment but for him it is a wage packet.”

Chris Humphris , assistant director of learning difficulties for adult social services, said the county council was not looking to close the centre.

But he told the people at the meeting places where people were working for allowances would have to have a plan in place by April this year to get people into work.

After the meeting he said: “These are concerns across the county.

“We have to do something about the employment issue. We had guidance issued in 2005 and we have had to set a date.

“I recognise not everyone with a learning disability will end up in full time employment.

“We want to give everyone the opportunity to see if it possible.

“For those who cannot our wider responsibility is to give them the opportunity in life.”

He said the current practise of paying and allowance could be open to challenge and if challenged it could see the council having to pay the minimum wage retrospectively those who have been working for an allowance.

He added he thought the meeting went well and that he wanted to work with those there, and anyone else interested, on the future of the centre, and other centres, the services they provide and how they could be improved.