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Disabled Children (Family Breaks)

Volume 489: debated on Monday 9 March 2009

9. What recent progress has been made in developing schemes for short breaks for families with disabled children. (261298)

We have allocated £430 million to the “Aiming high for disabled children” programme, of which £370 million is to transform the provision of short breaks over the period from 2008 to 2011. As the House will know, the child health strategy allocated an additional £340 million over the same period, which takes the total funding for the provision of short breaks and other services for disabled children and young people to £770 million. Progress in our 21 pathfinder areas is going well, and all areas will receive funding from April.

When I questioned the Secretary of State on this matter last year, he said that primary care trusts would be expected to match the funding from his Department. He said that Members would hold them to account, and I have done so. I have written to every PCT in England, and two thirds have written back. All of them confirm that they have had no specific money from the Department of Health to pay for short breaks for disabled children, and because of that, almost half of them have not provided any money for that purpose. What is he going to do to put that right?

I refer the hon. Gentleman to Mr. Speaker’s comment a moment ago that it is wise for hon. Members to listen to the answer before reading out their supplementary. As I said in my answer, the Department has allocated £370 million, which has been matched by £340 million from the Department of Health. In the child health strategy, indicative allocations for every primary care trust were announced. It is now for PCTs and families to ensure that that money goes towards short breaks. I have written to every PCT, along with the Secretary of State for Health, to ensure that that is happening. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman’s survey is somewhat out of date.

Further to that point, what steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that parents of disabled children are aware of how much money their primary care trust has from the Government for that purpose? Although I have done my best to publicise it in Milton Keynes, I do not have a hotline to the local press, and I am fearful that the money will disappear into the general PCT budget.

The child health strategy made clear not only the overall total, but the allocations to every primary care trust. It is important now to ensure that the money is spent. With Contact a Family, we are funding a parents forum in every area to ensure that parents are consulted about how the money—DCSF and Department of Health money—is spent. The best way of ensuring that the money is spent is to maintain our commitment to budgets in 2009-10 and 2010-11. To be honest, the £300 million planned by the Conservative party would mean cuts in that budget.

The announcement of £370 million investment in transforming short breaks for families with disabled children was warmly welcomed by hon. Members of all parties, and the Secretary of State can take his share of the credit. However, the announcement was made in January 2008, and £20 million of the money was supposed to be used to set up projects in the 21 pathfinder areas before the end of the current financial year in a few weeks’ time. Mencap reports that, far from things going well, not one of the families with children with profound and multiple learning disabilities that it follows in the pilot areas has had any increase in their package of short breaks—14 months on, and there has been no transformation at all. Why is it taking so long and when will families at breaking point get the help that they were promised?

The total spending in the next three years, including this year, is not £370 million but £770 million. It will mean a transformation in the provision of short breaks. The work was put together through consulting widely the consortium of children’s charities, including Mencap and Contact a Family. Those organisations expressed a clear view that we should spend a small amount of money in the first year while we piloted how to spend the money well. A substantial amount of investment—indeed, record amounts—will be made next year and the year after. I met the people who are running the pathfinders a few weeks ago and their advice to me was that the pathfinder areas are all going well.

To destabilise and demoralise families with disabled children when we are a third of the way into what will be record investment in short breaks seems exactly the wrong approach. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) shouts across the Dispatch Box that I promised investment for short breaks and that I have not delivered. That is absolute nonsense. I have campaigned personally, as all Labour Members have done, along with hon. Members from across the House, with some exceptions, to ensure that the money is well spent on short breaks. The provision will be widely welcomed by parents throughout the country, and I commend to the House the £770 million for those families.