Researchers from the UCL Institute of Health Equity (IHE) found that people with learning disabilities will die 15 to 20 years sooner on average than the general population, theguardian.com reported.
That amounts to 1,200 people each year, a figure which chimes with the government’s own estimate. The IHE said it is not a consequence of the underlying condition that led to the learning disability but because they are being ‘catastrophically’ failed by the government.
Professor Michael Marmot, the IHE director, said, “This is a direct result of a political choice that destines this vulnerable group to experience some of the worst of what society has to offer: Low incomes, no work, poor housing, social isolation and loneliness, bullying and abuse.
“A staggering 40 percent of people with learning difficulties aren’t even diagnosed in childhood. This is an avoidable sign of a society failing to be fair and supportive to its most vulnerable members. We need to change this. The time to act is now.”
The health equality think tank cites statistics that show children with learning disabilities are at increased risk of mental health conditions, including depression, with half of the increased risk of mental health difficulties attributable to poverty, poor housing, discrimination and bullying.
The IHE said it sounded the alarm bell a year ago that government policy was not working, having documented a slowing down in life expectancy, and called for research into a potential link with austerity, but action has not been taken.
It wants the government to focus on tackling poverty, poor housing, discrimination and bullying, and aim to increase employment levels from the current rate of 5.7 percent to at least 22 percent in the best performing regions, although it says 48 percent could be achievable.
It highlighted the example of Walgreens pharmacy chain in the US, which actively recruits people with learning disabilities in their distribution centers. It found them to be equally productive, have less accidents and to have helped reduce staff turnover at sites by up to 50 percent.
A government spokeswoman said, “We recognize the need to tackle the unacceptable inequalities faced by people with learning disabilities and autism.
“Improving the lives of people with learning disabilities will be a key part of the NHS long-term plan and we will be consulting shortly on mandatory awareness training for health and care staff to help end unacceptable differences in life expectancy.
“Funding for children with special educational needs and disabilities is the highest on record and we are working with employers to support more people with learning disabilities into work.”
A spokeswoman for NHS England said the report was commissioned “precisely to draw attention to the wide range of factors which need tackling if, as a society, we are to give everyone with a learning disability the opportunity to lead a long and fulfilling life”.