Today, the Department of Health and Social Care published its Mental Health Act White Paper .

The proposed reforms aim to change the way people with a learning disability and autistic people are treated in law by "recognising a mental health inpatient setting is often not the best place to meet their specific needs" and that "neither autism nor a learning disability are grounds for detention for treatment of themselves".

Legislation is set to go before Parliament in 2022.

Dan Scorer, Head of Policy and External Affairs at the learning disability charity Mencap, said: 

“We welcome these proposals to reform the Mental Health Act so that people with a learning disability and/or autism cannot be detained if they do not have a mental health condition. Currently, thousands of children and adults are locked away in modern day asylums even when they do not have a treatable mental health condition. 

“It is the right thing to do to require commissioners to develop community support, but this new duty must be properly funded, not left to cash-strapped local authorities who are already struggling to fund social care. While putting Care and Treat review recommendations on a statutory footing looks good on paper, this makes no sense unless the reviews themselves are also a statutory requirement – otherwise it risks reviews simply not happening. 

“Ultimately, changes to the Mental Health Act must be backed by a cross-government strategy to deliver on Government promises to get people with a learning disability and/or autism out of in-patient mental health units. The Government also needs to commit funding to develop the right housing and social care support to truly transform care and close inpatient beds for good. People with a learning disability have a right to live in their own homes, not in hospitals.”

Read the Department of Health and Social Care's announced in full online here.


For further information or to arrange an interview with a Mencap spokesperson or case study , please contact Mencap’s media team on:

Notes to editors

About Mencap

There are approximately 1.5 million people with a learning disability in the UK.

Mencap works to support people with a learning disability, their families and carers by fighting to change laws, improve services and access to education , employment and leisure facilities.

Mencap supports thousands of people with a learning disability to live their lives the way they want.


For advice and information about learning disability and Mencap services in your area, contact Mencap’s freephone Learning Disability Helpline on 0808 808 1111 (10am-3pm, Monday-Friday) or email

What is a learning disability?    

  • A learning disability is a reduced intellectual ability which can cause problems with everyday tasks – for example shopping and cooking, or travelling to new places – which affects someone for their whole life
  • Learning disability is not a mental illness or a learning difficulty, such as dyslexia . Very often the term ‘learning difficulty’ is wrongly used interchangeably with ‘learning disability’
  • People with a learning disability can take longer to learn new things and may need support to develop new skills, understand difficult information and engage with other people. The level of support someone needs is different with every individual. For example, someone with a severe learning disability might need much more support with daily tasks than someone with a mild learning disability.