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Disabled children promised better support

February 23, 2007 12:00 AM
By Press Association in http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,2020132,00.html

The government today promised improved services for disabled children and their families, including the provision of more breaks for under-pressure parents. The children, young people and families minister, Parmjit Dhanda, made the pledge as he talked out a Tory backbench bill to give families with severely disabled children a new right to short breaks.

The failure of the bill, which was drawn up with the assistance of the Every Disabled Child Matters campaign, was said by children's charity NCH to be a "massive blow" for disabled children and their families.

The minister said a review of services was under way and he did not want to pre-empt the outcome, but acknowledged more breaks were needed for hard-pressed families. He signalled that announcements could follow in the forthcoming comprehensive spending review. "We do intend to bring forward new policy proposals to improve the provision of services for disabled children and their families, including short breaks. I can't be any more categoric than that," Mr Dhanda said.

Earlier, Tory Gary Streeter said families with severely disabled children were often driven to "breaking point" by the "treadmill of 24/7 care". Assistance for them was "patchy", with some areas providing help but others making no breaks available, he said.

Introducing a second reading debate on his disabled children (family support) bill, which had cross-party support, Mr Streeter acknowledged that providing short breaks could cost up to £190m a year. But he said this would be offset by savings in taking the pressure off families with severely disabled children, and that the cost of taking just one such child into care could amount to £200,000 a year. "If this bill is not to progress, it must be replaced not by fudge or prevarication, not by warm words only, but by a clear plan of government action that will advance us to the same ends," he warned.

The shadow minister for the disabled, Jeremy Hunt, said the opposition could not support the bill but indicated strong backing for its aims. He promised that the issues raised by Mr Streeter would be given the "highest priority" under a future Conservative government. But he added: "As a responsible opposition, we aren't going to make financial commitments when we don't know what the fiscal environment will be when we come to power."

Clare Tickell, chief executive of NCH, the children's charity, said in a statement: "Today's decision is a massive blow for thousands of disabled children and their families. By being denied the legal right to a short break, too many parents will now not receive the support they desperately need.

"Caring for a disabled child can be very challenging making short break support a lifeline. For families who have been struggling to cope, today's decision could mean the difference between their child staying at home or going into unnecessary and expensive residential care, often miles away from home.

"Short break support makes a huge difference to families and is also cost-effective. It doesn't make sense that the disabled children (family support) bill has not been passed in the same week the government announced a package of new support for carers. It is a tragedy that this bill hasn't been passed."