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Children with Disabilities

Volume 455: debated on Thursday 25 January 2007

The Treasury and the Department for Education and Skills are jointly reviewing how improved services can improve the life chances of disabled children and their families. We published an interim discussion paper on 9 January. The review will report in the spring, with recommendations to inform the comprehensive spending review.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that reply. Given that in 2002 the Audit Commission identified a shortfall of specialist provision to meet low incidence needs, which tend to be severe, complex and even multi-faceted, will he make it a priority to increase specialist provision through more units attached to mainstream schools, the use of specialist regional centres and the imposition of a new duty on local education authorities and primary care trusts to work together, so that children with disabilities receive all the help that they so desperately need?

I am very happy to give the hon. Gentleman the assurance for which he asks. In the review, we shall look hard at the issues he raises. Anybody who heard his speech in the debate on those issues on Tuesday will know that he speaks with authority from both his personal experience and his work as head of the all-party group on speech and language difficulties. We are working hard on the review. We shall need to improve capacity and we need more early intervention and better respite care. We need better co-ordination of services and support for parents, and we need to make sure that there is greater consistency across the country. We also need to do more to help children with multiple needs and the severest disabilities, of whom there are now more in our society. I want better working between local authorities and primary care trusts across the country. In my constituency, the process works well—but there are many examples of it not working as well as it should, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall do everything we can to meet the needs of children and families that he has raised today.

I thank my hon. Friend for his encouragement for the all-party review of the issues, which reported in October. Given the input from parents, professionals and others, will he confirm that the recommendations of the review will be fully considered before the Government reach their conclusions? As it has been said that the review was transparent, evidence-based and ground-breaking, does he agree that it could be taken as a model for further parliamentary activity?

I am happy to do that. My right hon. Friend has worked on the issues over many years, especially with our hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) on the parliamentary hearings, which were innovative and pioneering and involved Members on both sides of the House, as well as parents. Some important stories were told during those hearings and they gave rise to some important policy recommendations.

I can assure my right hon. Friend that when it comes to the final publication of the review, we will set out clearly in our document every recommendation he makes and show case by case and issue by issue how we will respond. I hope that we will able to respond to a number of recommendations made in the hearings in a way that gives hope and some certainty of improved services in the future to the families of disabled children.

What can the Economic Secretary offer in terms of hope or advice to my constituent, Mrs. Liz Brunt, who was very encouraged by the Government’s document “Every Child Matters”, but who finds that now that her learning-disabled son has left school, there are no opportunities for meaningful activity or work because the services are not there to provide them?

I understand the hon. Lady’s point. I am very proud to be associated with the “every disabled child matters” campaign. It is very important that disabled children form part of the wider work of the strategy.

The hon. Lady is also right to point to what happens on the transition to adulthood. As more children with complex disabilities survive into adulthood, it becomes an issue that we need to address. Indeed, it was raised by families and parliamentarians in the hearings, and it is a priority for the review. Such children go suddenly from the comfort of a school environment at the age of 15 or 16 and into the adult world at the age of 18. For the children and their parents nothing has changed, but they find that the services provided have changed profoundly and often in a way that is destabilising. I know from my experiences of talking to parents that we need to do better and I assure the hon. Lady that this issue is a priority for the review.