This Government have introduced the biggest reforms to special educational needs and disabilities provisions in 30 years, reforms that enjoy cross-party support. Every disabled child, like all other three and four-year-olds, is entitled to a free 15 hours of early education, and the situation is the same for disadvantaged two-year-olds. In addition, when tax-free child care is introduced, parents of disabled children will get double the allowance of other families at £4,000. The disabled child element of universal credit is £4,300, on top of all the other benefits parents of disabled children receive.
The cross-party parliamentary inquiry into child care for disabled children found that 92% of parents with disabled children reported difficulties in finding suitable child care for their children. As child care costs overall continue to rise, particularly for disabled children, that figure can only continue to grow. What is the Minister doing to ensure sufficient places for disabled children?
On the cost of child care in general, let me point out that the Labour party left us with the highest child care costs in the OECD; they went up by 50% when it was in government. This Government have been helping parents with the cost of child care, particular parents with disabled children, whom the hon. Lady mentioned. Local authorities have a legal duty to secure sufficient child care for working parents in their area. As far as free entitlement is concerned, local authorities that set the rate they pay for free entitlement can pay for additional hours, on an hourly basis and tailored to individual children, from the dedicated schools grant.
The Minister’s words to parents of children with disabilities are just that. Can he explain the reality of the situation for families who have a child with a disability when the proportion of local authorities reporting that they have sufficient places for children with disabilities has fallen by seven points in just one year to only a fifth? That is the reality for parents of children with disabilities. Can he please explain what happened last year?
Of course the cost of child care for children with disabilities is high, because the ratios are higher. They often need one-to-one care, and sometimes more. When children have really complex needs, staff need additional training in order to provide that care. The reason tax-free child care has been doubled to £4,000 from the £2,000 for every other family is to give parents the additional financial power they will need to provide more child care. It has also been extended from age 12, so the parent of a disabled child can now access tax-free child care until their child is 17. That also applies to specialist care regulated by the Care Quality Commission.