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Learning disabilities: Invisible no more

Recommendations to build evidence-based effective action for people with learning disabilities in Scotland

Over the last 15 months, the Fraser of Allander Institute has looked at evidence and policy for adults with learning disabilities in Scotland. Overwhelmingly, we have found that the evidence on which to base effective policy to improve the outcomes for people living with a learning disability is severely lacking. In this report, we bring together our key findings from the Institute’s research so far, and set out a number of recommendations to improve learning disability policy.

At the root of effective policy is evidence. Without better data to underpin policy making, Scottish Government ambitions to improve the lives of adults with learning disabilities are unlikely to be realised.

The 6 recommendations that we have set out could make a significant difference in building better policy and on understanding its impact over time. There are opportunities on the horizon to implement these recommendations that should be grasped to move further towards a Scotland where people with learning disabilities and their families can realise their rights and live as an included and valued part of society.

Recommendations from our programme of work

1. The Scottish Government should recognise that current data is not fit for purpose and that data on adults with learning disabilities should not be used unless appropriately caveated. The Scottish Government should examine approaches to build on existing data to enable understanding of the requirements of people with learning disabilities throughout their life course and to build evidence on whether people are able to realise their human rights.

2. It is important to have a robust baseline of support that is available in terms of financial resources, eligibility and experience of the current social care system. These aspects need to be monitored to understand what is changing, and the impact that this is having on the people that draw on these services. The Scottish Government should take responsibility for this now to ensure that the impact of the new National Care Service can be monitored and evaluated.

3. The Scottish Government must ensure that reforms to Carers Allowance and the National Care Service are considered together so as to provide an integrated package that allows genuine choices for unpaid carers and those who draw on unpaid care support.

4. The Scottish Government should carry out an audit of the current employability support schemes on offer in each part of Scotland for people with learning disabilities, and the routes that people come through to access them. This will ensure a shared understanding across Scotland so that new localised schemes are aware of what they have to build on, can ensure good practice is not lost, and gaps in provision are identified. Robust monitoring and evaluation of outcomes for people with learning disabilities is crucial, including follow-up after 12 months to measure sustained outcomes.

5. The Scottish Government should ensure that reforms, including No One Left Behind and the National Care Service, provide specific proposals that ensure changes made will improve transitions for young people with disabilities. The implementation of these changes should be monitored and the experience of young people with disabilities during the transition period should be routinely captured as part of monitoring and evaluation.

6. The Covid-19 inquiry should consider in detail the damage done during Covid-19, both in terms of the impact on services provided and the experience of life for people with learning disabilities and their families to inform improvements in the future.


Emma Congreve is a Principal Knowledge Exchange Fellow and Deputy Director at the Fraser of Allander Institute. Emma's work at the Institute is focussed on policy analysis, covering a wide range of areas of social and economic policy.  Emma is an experienced economist and has previously held roles as a senior economist at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and as an economic adviser within the Scottish Government.

Knowledge Exchange Associate at the Fraser of Allander Institute

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The Fraser of Allander Institute is delighted to embark on this long-term project aiming to shine a light on the support systems in place for adults with learning disabilities in Scotland – both from government and wider society.