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Disabled Children

Volume 975: debated on Tuesday 11 December 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether he is satisfied with the level of assistance for disabled children to enable their parents to meet the extra cost of clothing and footwear.

Assistance can be provided in appropriate cases under the supplementary benefits scheme. Mobility allowance and attendance allowance are also available to handicapped children who satisfy the criteria for those benefits. Moreover, the family fund may be able to help families of very severely disabled children and voluntary organisations may assist in particular cases. I have every sympathy with the parents of disabled children, but, as I have already made clear, we cannot consider any further assistance to them in the present economic climate.

What possible justification is there for refusing assistance to my constituents whose daughter has to wear shoes of different sizes? Is the Minister aware that the parents have to spend about £20 every six weeks for two pair of shoes in order to provide one pair of shoes that will fit the child's feet? Why should these parents be penalised financially because their daughter is disabled?

I wrote to the hon. Gentleman about the case of his constituents. They are not on supplementary benefit. Therefore, they have to buy their children's shoes, just as any other parents do. As for the problem of children with a disability which means that they have different sized feet, I was able to send the hon. Gentleman a list prepared by the Disabled Living Foundation of suppliers and retailers who provide odd-sized shoes either for adults or children. I hope that that was helpful.

Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that equal help will be given to those who go to what used to be known as grammar schools, as opposed to any other form of educational establishment?

Is the Minister aware of the tragic case of 9-year-old Stuart Charles Whitehouse, whose family lost an award of £100,000 for damages in the Appeal Court last week? Is he aware of the statement by Mr. Justice Lawton, that cases of medical mishap should be looked after by the community and not subjected to the hazards of litigation? How do the Minister and the Government respond to that urgent appeal, having regard to the report of the Pearson Commission and to the precedent of the vaccine damage payments scheme?

That question contained a number of supplementaries, none of which arose from the original question. However, the tragic case that was recently decided in the High Court underlines the fact that society has not found a satisfactory way of dealing with such cases. They ought not to depend, ultimately, on fine points of law as they have done over past generations.