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What we would like to see in the Autumn Statement 2016

This Wednesday Phillip Hammond will give his first Autumn Statement as Chancellor, the Government’s first major financial statement since the vote to leave the European Union.

At Scope we’ve been campaigning and raising awareness of the important issues that disabled people face ahead of Wednesday’s Autumn Statement announcement.

Autumn Statement

There has been lots of speculation about what he will include. He has decided not to go ahead with previous Chancellor George Osborne’s formal target to create a budget surplus by 2020 which will give him some flexibility on how much he spends.

Theresa May’s first speech as Prime Minister set out her commitment to creating a country that ‘works for everyone’ and ‘allowing people to go as far as their talents will take them.’ A recent common theme has been a focus on those ‘just about managing.’ But what does this mean for disabled people and what are Scope been calling for?

Last week we saw passionate speeches from all parties about the need to rethink the implementation of forthcoming reductions in financial support to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), at the beginning of the month the Government launched its consultation to tackle the disability employment gap; and, last month we published research highlighting the crisis in social care for young disabled people.

Taken together, there are many disabled people who are ‘just about managing’.

Our Extra Costs work has highlighted life costs more if you’re disabled. £550 a month more. From the need to purchase appliances and equipment, through to spending more on energy. And yet payments aimed at alleviating these – such as Personal Independence Payments (PIP) – often fall short of enabling disabled people to meet extra costs, leaving many turning to credit cards and payday loans to help with everyday living.

Ahead of the Autumn Statement we think there are three key areas that need addressing.

Social Care

Social care has been at the top of the news agenda in the run up to the Autumn Statement with the Care Quality Commission, Local Government Association, Care and Support Alliance and even the Conservative Chair of the Health Select Committee saying the social care system is in desperate need of investment. Working age disabled adults represent nearly a third of social users.

We have long been calling for sustainable funding in social care. Reductions in funding to local government over the past six years mean the social care system is starting to crumble under extreme financial pressure. We have heard from disabled people who have had to sleep fully-clothed, in their wheelchairs. Scope research in 2015 found that 55 per cent of disabled people think that social care never supports their independence. And just last month we found young disabled adults’ futures are comprised by inadequate care and support.

Social care plays a vital role in allowing many disabled people to live independently, work and be part of their communities. That’s why urgent funding and a long-term funding settlement are needed.

Extra Costs

On average, disabled people spend £550 a month on disability related costs and when we asked disabled people about their top priorities for the Autumn Statement, 70% said protecting disability benefits. We want to see PIP continue to be protected from any form of taxation or means-testing and the value of PIP protected.

The Government is expected to announce significant infrastructure investment and there will be potentially be announcements on digital infrastructure and energy.

We hope energy companies are required to think more about how they can support these consumers with their energy costs more effectively. With 25 per cent of disabled adults having never used the internet compared to 6 per cent of non-disabled adults, any new digital skills funding should include specific funding for disabled people.

Employment

The Government made a welcome commitment in their manifesto to halve the disability employment gap and a plan on how to achieve this in the Improving Lives consultation.

The Autumn Statement provides an opportunity for the Government to take steps to support disabled people to find, and stay in work.

Last week, MPs debated the changes to Employment Support Allowance Work Related Activity Group due to begin in April 2017. MPs from across political parties have been urging the Government to think again about the changes. Half a million disabled people rely on ESA and we know they are already struggling to make ends meet. Over the last year we have been campaigning against this decision as we believe reducing disabled people’s financial support by £30 per week will not help the Government meet their commitment to halve the disability employment gap.

Read more about the Green Paper and how to get involved with the consultation.

Welfare Reform and Work Bill – House of Lords debates the future of ESA

The Welfare Reform and Work Bill continues its journey through Parliament. At each stage of the Bill’s passage, Scope has been speaking to MPs, Peers, the Government and partner organisations about our priorities and the changes we would like to see to the Bill.

The Bill proposes changes to the financial support some disabled people receive.  

The Welfare Reform and Work Bill is currently at Committee Stage in the House of Lords when all Peers have the opportunity to analyse the Bill, debate each section and vote on amendments.

Today, Peers will be debating some of the sections of the Bill which are key priorities for Scope as they relate to our campaign to halve the disability employment gap and support for disabled people to find, stay and progress in work.

Cuts to financial support

The Government plans to cut the level of financial support to disabled people in the Employment and Support Allowance Work Related Activity Group (WRAG). Disabled People in the WRAG have been found unfit for work by the independent Work Capability Assessment.

This cut in support of around £30 a week to new claimants would impact nearly half a million people in the WRAG.

We think that this cut will push disabled people further away from the jobs market and make their lives harder.

We know that disabled people take longer to get back into work than non-disabled people as they face a number of barriers finding and staying in work. Therefore, we are concerned that this reduction will mean disabled people on ESA WRAG will have a very low income for a long period of time.

Disabled people also have fewer savings than non-disabled people (an average of £108,000 fewer savings and assets) so we are worried that this change will have a significant impact on their financial wellbeing.

Progress towards halving the disability employment gap

Taking forward Scope’s campaign recommendation, the Government has made a welcome commitment to halve the disability employment gap.

Currently the employment rate for disabled people is 47.6%. The gap between disabled people’s employment rate and the rest of the population has remained static at 30% for over decade.
Despite the Government’s ambition, the gap has actually now risen since this time last year.

The Welfare Reform and Work Bill requires the Government to report on the progress it makes towards achieving its aim of Full Employment. However, this can’t be achieved without halving the disability employment gap, so we would also like the Government to report each year on the progress towards meeting it. This will ensure that this important target remains on the public and political agenda.

We hope that in today’s debate we will also hear more details on the announcements in the Spending Review last week on the future of specialist employment support. Specialist employment support enables many disabled people to overcome the barriers they face and move into work and progress in their careers.

This film shows the importance of specialist employment support and how Scope’s employment service in Worthing has supported one young person into work.

You can follow today’s debate via Scope’s Twitter and also the Parliament Live website.

Twenty Years On: The Spastics Society to Scope – a celebration in Parliament

On Monday evening, Scope hosted a Parliamentary reception to recognise the twenty year anniversary of the name change from The Spastics Society. Twenty years ago, “The Spastics Society” wanted to challenge attitudes by saying something positive about disability.

To recognise the events of twenty years ago, we brought together several former Ministers for Disabled People from across the two decades for a group photograph. The reception also featured a curated display of items to reflect Scope’s work over the past two decades.

We were honoured to be joined by Rt. Hon William Hague MP – who was the Minister that launched Scope in 1994. William delivered a speech at the reception, the text of which can be found below:

Group photo

It’s a great pleasure to be marking this anniversary, twenty years on. I remember it very well – standing out there on the terrace of the House of Commons, watching the largest flag in the history of the country being unfurled on St Thomas’ Hospital.

Thank you for putting a photograph there of me with a lot more hair than I have today – you can really date it!

There are a few of us here who can remember that event twenty years ago. And it was the right thing to do – the name change. It symbolised what we all hoped was a change in attitudes, of opportunity, of expectations for disabled people at that time. And it was an exciting time to push those things along. It was also the year, as it happens, when we set out to pass the Disability Discrimination Act.

I became the Disability Minister that year in 1994. Like many ministers, I had not asked for or expected to be the Minister for Disabled People. One day I wasn’t, and the next day I was. That is how ministerial reshuffles work.

But it turned out to be one of the most rewarding and fascinating tasks that I’ve been given in politics. And there was intense pressure at the time to have a major landmark piece of legislation – and I pay tribute to everybody across parties – many in the Labour Party – who pressed for that at that time. There was intense pressure and campaigning, and the question was how to respond to that and what sort of legislation to create.

WIlliam Hague looking at photos from 1994

The first thing I did when I was appointed was I went back to my constituency and met disabled people there and talked to them about what would really help. Then I consulted many of the organisations including this one – and including Mencap – also represented here tonight – about the shape that legislation could take.

And then I went to the United States to study what they had just done. Because in 1991, the US passed the Americans with Disabilities Act. This was signed into law by President Bush but with the support of people across American politics. And I wanted a situation where across parties we would pass a piece of legislation that would have enthusiasm across the House of Commons. So starting with the US, as they had become world leaders in this field of disability legislation, we should learn about them.

I spent about a week in the US, and on the plane on the way back I sketched out the framework of what became the Disability Discrimination Act – with a lot of hard work by some very good officials, Parliamentary counsel and by people who draft legislation. And then it took shape in Parliament with huge pressure for such legislation from the Opposition, from the Labour Party, and with many uncertainties and debates that we had to have in the Government – just as a Minister of State trying to persuade the Cabinet we should do this.

But I had a secret weapon – the Prime Minister. And the Prime Minister was Sir John Major – and he was very much in favour of disability legislation. So every time I hit a problem, the little Minister of State – me – in only his second job in Government – was able to call on the Prime Minister to remove all the roadblocks, to persuade the rest of the Cabinet. And this, by the way, is how I recommend to all future ministers how you do this. As I have done for the last twenty years – I’ve done the same in all my ministerial jobs. Don’t waste time arguing with the others – get the Prime Minister to tell them that is what we are going to do!

And indeed it was what we were going to do. I’m not sure it took a lot of courage, but it did take a bit of cunning to get it through in the right form, to make it far-reaching enough and to create a piece of legislation that is a milestone. And it’s been added to successfully since then, including by the Government that followed.

5

So it is across Parties that we have worked on this over these twenty years. But its basic concepts and structure have stood the test of time. And I hope, created many more opportunities for tens of thousands of disabled people.

Before it had finally gone through the House of Lords and finished its passage through Parliament I had already moved on to another job that I didn’t expect or ask for – being Secretary of State for Wales.

In fact it tells you something about politics that, all the jobs I did in the 1990s that I didn’t expect or ask for, turned out to be fascinating and rewarding things to do.

And when I did something that I did ask for – being leader of the Opposition – it was an absolute nightmare! So just remember that when you’re asked to do something by the leader of your Party.

Alistair Burt took over and finished the progress of that legislation, and I hope since then that it is something indeed that we’ve been able to build on, which I’m absolutely convinced that it is. Greater enforcement of the legislation was added a few years later. Legislation is sometimes necessary to force change – to accelerate change. And it certainly was necessary in this case.

But the work of organisations like this one makes sure that disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else – or that is what we’re trying to ensure by working together. Not just through the growing force of regulations, but through the permanent changing of attitudes and through practical assistance.

And you are concerned with making sure that people are valued for what they can achieve – not judged by what they can’t. And that is an extremely important objective. You say at Scope that aspirations should not be limited and that by recognising that a diverse workforce that helps individuals fulfil their real and full potential makes sense in every way – makes business sense as well as common sense – as well as being right in principle.

Stands with key dates around the room

So this was an important time, twenty years ago, and at that time Scope played an important role – and it continues to do so today.

The work of Scope over the last twenty years – as we see along the room here, the major campaigns displayed on these panels – are testament to the range of work carried out to remove barriers, to encourage engagement in democracy, to improve the representation of disabled people in the arts and in society in general.

So I think we’ve come a long way in twenty years and I know that the work of Scope has changed a lot over the last twenty years. But we must make sure that over the next twenty years that the enormous change in attitudes and substantial change in opportunities is continued.

And I think you can be sure that the members of parliament here across all political parties are absolutely determined to work with you to make sure that is what indeed what happens.

So congratulations to Scope on these twenty years, and thank you very much indeed for having me back.

Rationing for social care hardwired into the Care Act

This week the Queen’s Speech set out the Coalition’s plans for their final year in Government. Today we learnt the details about one of the most critical reforms of the last year – who will be eligible for social care under the new Care Act.

Last month’s passage of the Care Act represents a huge achievement for the Coalition Government.  For the first time, we have a single modern law that governs social care.  It is a truly aspirational piece of legislation – placing the well-being of those using social care at the heart of the Bill.

For Scope – and other members of the Care and Support Alliance – the final question remained – who will be eligible for social care support?  The Care Act represents a huge opportunity to make sure that every disabled and older person who needs social care support can get it, with the introduction of a new ‘national eligibility threshold’.

Today the Government has released details about who will be eligible for social care – and has confirmed that those older and disabled people who are shut out of the social care system will continue to receive little to no social care support.

For Scope, we believe there is a real risk that continuing to ration social care support will fatally undermine the Government’s focus on improving preventative social care.

We know that as local authority budgets are squeezed, the support that disabled people receive to get up, get washed and get out of the house is also being squeezed.

Take the example of Julie-Ann from Crawley in Sussex. Julie-Ann lost her sight three years ago and is deaf. She used to receive four hours of social care support a week that supported her to wash, cook and get out of her house.

She has been deemed no longer eligible for care, and now struggles with tasks around the house and suffers from loneliness.

Specifically, today’s publication confirms that many people unable to get out and about could fall through the net – this could include people who are on the autistic spectrum or who have dementia, a learning disability or a mental health condition.

With the Care Act comes the opportunity to make sure such people are eligible for social care. However, on the basis of the Government’s plans today, we have instead seen existing rationing for social care hardwired into the Act.

We know that sitting behind this rationing is the chronic underfunding of social care. For the Care Act to be truly transformational – ensuring the wellbeing of everyone who uses social care – it must be matched by bold investment.

With increasing numbers of older people and disabled adults needing care, there must be a new consensus on adequately funding social care services. What’s more, there is increasing consensus that doing so could generate real savings across Government.

The Department of Health is holding a final public consultation on the regulations. Scope will be responding to make sure that the details are improved as far as possible to allow disabled people who need social care support are able to receive it.

We encourage you to get involved, making it clear just how important social care support is in allowing disabled people to live their lives.

Four things to look out for in today’s Queen’s Speech

Today’s Queen’s Speech will be the last under the Coalition and first under a fixed term Parliament.  Speculation about the contents of the speech this year has been about whether its contents can give the Coalition enough energy to last the course. But what will the speech mean for disabled people?

This year the speculation surrounding the Queen’s Speech has been about how ‘light’ it will be in terms of proposed legislation. Whatever is included we can expect Wednesday’s speech to contain proposals that aim to capture the electorate’s imagination before the fast approaching General Election.

From the trickles of announcement made throughout the last year – as well as in the press over the past week – we know about a few of them. As ever, Scope will be watching out for what the announcement means for disabled people and for Scope.

Here are four things that we will be watching out for.

1. Tax free childcare

In last year’s Budget the Government announced that it will introduce Tax-free Childcare for working parents in 2015. Under the scheme, eligible families would be entitled to a 20% discount on their annual childcare costs, up to a limit of £10,000 per child. A Bill to introduce this is expected in the Queen’s Speech.

Government support for childcare costs is welcome: families with disabled children tell us that childcare costs are a key barrier to work.

But it is likely that some disabled children will miss out on Tax-free Childcare in the current proposals.  This is because parents of disabled children would not be able to use such a scheme if they wanted to buy child care that is registered with the CQC and not with Ofsted. This includes domiciliary care or short breaks.

This would be a major omission that would exclude the parents of disabled children from help with the cost of childcare – which can often be higher for disabled children.

We will be keeping a close eye on the proposals and will continue to push Government to make sure that all families with disabled children can benefit from any new Bill.

2. Regulation of Health and Social care professionals

Social Care reform has been a huge priority of the Coalition.  The Care Bill – now Care Act – was included in the past two Queen’s Speeches.  And care could be included yet again.

The Government has hinted that they could create consistency in the regulation of health and social care professionals through a better framework for registration, standards and professional development.

Well regulated, motivated social care professionals are crucial in delivering high quality care for disabled people, and Scope would welcome any moves by Government to improve this. But we will continue to remind Government that although this is crucial, whilst the social care system remains chronically underfunded disabled people who need social care will still lose out on the support they need to live their lives.

3. Social Finance

The Coalition has made social investment a priority over the past 4 years. In 2012 Scope became one of the first UK charities to enter capital markets with its listed bond programme, and we have supported the Government in their work in this area.

This Queen’s Speech is expected to include legislation that focuses on the legal framework in which charities operate in the area of social finance, specifically on improving the administrative burdens and technical problems. We’ll be watching to see what this means for Scope.

4. Welfare reform

The final year of the Coalition will see many of the Government’s welfare reform measures continue to come into effect. From the roll out of the new Personal Independence Payment to changes in housing benefits, many of these changes will impact upon disabled people.

We’ll be watching out for the Speech to include anything specific on welfare reform – and what this could mean for disabled people.

The Care Act is welcome, but there’s plenty of unfinished business

Post from Caroline Hawkings, Public Policy Advisor at Scope.

This week, we’ve reached a significant milestone for adult social care in England.  After many months of debate, the Care Bill has become the Care Act through Royal Assent, meaning that the primary legislation is complete.

In the words of the Minister Norman Lamb, the Act’ represents the most significant reform of care and support in more than 60 years and at least on paper, there are many things to welcome about the new Act.

  • For the first time adult social care law has been brought into a single Act, replacing disparate and sometimes outdated laws
  •  Local authorities have a duty to promote a person’s well-being, which is comprehensively described in a ‘well-being principle’ covering different aspects of life
  • The Act introduces a national minimum threshold for getting care and support, which all local authorities must adhere to, aiming to end the post-code lottery of the current system where local authorities decide their own level. Currently, eligibility for support is assessed against a framework called Prioritising Need, also referred to as the Fair Access to Care Services criteria (FACS). There are four levels ‘critical, substantial, moderate and low’, the majority being at substantial or above.

Other positive features include: an emphasis on providing personalised services, prevention, personal budgets, improvements to care planning and access to advocacy in certain circumstances

But, the key question for disabled people remains whether they will be able to get the care and support they need to as live independently as possible?  Social care is vital to promoting a person’s dignity, well-being and independence and one in three people using social care are working age disabled people. Increasing access to social care is a key part of improving disabled people’s living standards.

There are two crucial inter-linked decisions which have yet to be finalised, which will determine the success of the Government’s landmark piece of legislation.

Firstly, although the Act establishes a national minimum threshold for social care, the level at which it is set will be determined by eligibility criteria contained in regulations (secondary legislation). These criteria will decide whether a person is in or out of the formal system.  The criteria have yet to be finalised and are due for public consultation at the end of May.

The Government has stated that their intention is to maintain eligibility at ‘substantial’ under the current Fair Access to Care (FACS) criteria.  So, the worrying prospect is one of a more uniform threshold which is consistently too high, where care continues to be restricted. This means that thousands of disabled people are likely to be shut out of the benefits which the new Care Act brings.

Secondly, the Act sets out the legislative framework, but the funding allocated to actually implement and apply what it says, is largely dictated by the Treasury. The tight rationing of care is largely due to historic underfunding and budget cuts.  Due to funding pressures, research from the Care and Support Alliance shows that 97,000 fewer disabled people who would have received social care five years ago, now receive no support.

The most frustrating thing is that it needn’t be like this. A lower eligibility threshold is good for disabled and older people and has benefits for the economy. Modelling by Deloitte, in the Ending the Care Crisis report, has shown that a £1.2 billion investment in establishing a lower national eligibility threshold would lead to £700 million saving to Central Government and £570 million saving to the NHS and local government.

Scope, working with other members of the Care and Support Alliance have been consistently urging the Government to introduce a lower eligibility threshold, backed up by sufficient funding to so that local authorities can afford to implement it properly.

If the Government is to realise the bold and welcome ambition of the Care Act, it’s essential that disabled people up and down the country get the support they need to live independently and live well.

The Care Bill: the final chapter

Guest post by Megan Cleaver, Parliamentary Officer at Scope.

Today’s debate in Parliament on the Care Bill marks the final opportunity for MPs to make changes to reforms the Government claims will transform social care for older and disabled people and make the system fit for the 21st century.

We are looking out for a debate in Parliament on an amendment from Paul Burstow to ensure there is sufficient funding of the social care system. This has support from a broad coalition including the Care and Support Alliance, the Local Government Association, the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, and Society of Local Authority Chief Executives.

This is an important statement as local authorities and charities can often appear at loggerheads over social care.

Because while the Care Bill has been broadly welcomed by both charities, care providers and local government who have applauded the Government for setting out their vision to create a preventative care system where older and disabled people will not just be supported to survive, but to live full and active lives in their communities, there are grave concerns about whether this bold vision can actually become a reality on the ground.

Cuts to local authority budgets of more than 20% since 2010 have had a devastating impact on social care provision. Indeed, just last week Age UK reported that over 800,000 older people were going without vital help due to the squeeze on social care funding.

To reverse this damaging trend, Paul Burstow’s amendment would require the Care and Support Reform Programme Board (which brings together senior figures from both local and central government responsible for commissioning and providing care services) to report annually to the Department of Health on whether they are satisfied that sufficient funding is in place to ensure that the reforms in the Bill i.e. creating a preventative care system with the well-being of care users at its heart- can be implemented.

In addition, the Programme Board would also review where the new “national eligibility threshold” for care has been set. This is hugely important as last June the Government stated its intention to set, and thereby fund, the threshold at a level where only those older and disabled people with ‘substantial’ needs will be able to get care. This will mean that hundreds of thousands of older and disabled people with ‘moderate’ needs will be denied the care they need to get washed, get dressed and get out of the house- the very essence of an individual’s well-being.

Without this reporting from the front line of social care, shortfalls in funding will likely continue leaving too many older and disabled people unable to benefit from the preventative care system they had been long promised.

Indeed, recognising that Labour’s vision for “whole person care” will not be achieved without the necessary investment, Shadow Care Minister Liz Kendall has also put her name to this amendment- making it a truly cross-party appeal to the Government to ensure “the most valuable legacy in health and care reform for a generation” can truly be achieved.

Because while the Government has claimed that the key to putting social care on sustainable footing is to ‘use the resources we currently have more efficiently’, there is significant evidence that it is  through properly investing in social care that is in fact the most efficient use of local authority budgets.

Join us on Twitter this afternoon for live Tweets from the report stage.

It’s time to speak out for care…literally

When I worked for a Member of Parliament one of the first tasks every morning was to struggle through the bulging post bag. That was before I even considered opening up the email inbox to see the hundreds of new emails that had flooded in since the day before. As well as the letters and emails from constituents, we would hear from organisations, all trying to get the attention of the MP on different issues or causes.

To get their attention you’ve got to try something a bit different

We’ve tried some innovative actions as part of our Britain Cares campaign. Last year we sent MPs over 1,000 individual photos of constituents showing how much they cared about social care. We followed it up by asking people to speak out for care and delivered over 400 speech bubbles to Parliament.

Social care is so important to so many disabled people across the UK. It’s the vital support that helps them live their lives in the way they want to. It’s help with getting up and dressed in the morning, preparing and cooking a meal or getting out of the house.

With the final debate in Parliament on the future of social care only weeks away we knew it was more important than ever to grab MPs attention.

This time we went one step further – we asked people to literally speak out for care. We took their messages, in their own voices, to their MPs.

The messages

Here’s some examples of the great messages we sent to MPs:

It was simple too. We recorded short messages on to small audio modules that we stuck into big cards and sent them on to Parliament. The video below shows how we did it:

When MPs opened up the mail the morning after we dropped off our audio cards, they received something a bit different, something that stands out from other letters. They heard from one of their own constituents. They heard why social care is so important and the opportunity that Care Bill is to make sure that everyone who needs care gets it.

With the 2014 Budget due next week, the CSA is uniting to put pressure on the Chancellor to invest in social care. To take part, sign up for the CSA thunderclap, asking George Osborne to take action and invest in care.

Keep Us Close reaches Parliament

Guest post from Megan Cleaver who is the Parliamentary Officer at Scope.

The Children and Families Bill, which sets out the biggest changes to support for children with special educational needs (SEN), has reached a critical stage and is currently being debated by a committee of MPs in the House of Commons where they have the opportunity to put down amendments in order to improve the Bill.

Committee stage

In the Committee, MPs from both the Labour and Conservative Parties have supported a number of Scope’s key asks as part of our Keep Us Close campaignto improve the support available for families with disabled children and children with SEN and stop the battles they face in accessing this support.

The Shadow Minister for Children, Sharon Hodgson, herself a mother of a disabled child, spoke passionately about the challenges that families face and made explicit reference to Scope’s ‘Keep Us Close’ report detailing the lack support available to families in their local area. Sharon sought changes to the Bill which would ensure that positive family relationships and the participation of children and young people and their families in local community activities are actively promoted; and that services are located nearer to where families live. This would send a strong message to local authorities that improving the quality of life for families is, and should be, a priority and ensure that support for children with SEN is available in their local community.

While the Children’s Minister Edward Timpson praised Sharon for her ‘insightful and excellent analysis’ of the weaknesses of the current SEN system, unfortunately the Government did not accept this amendment.

In order to ensure parents get the support they need in their local area, Scope is also calling for systems to be put in place so that families are able to hold local authorities to account if they cannot get the support they need. This is supported by Conservative MPs Caroline Nokes and Robert Buckland who both spoke powerfully about the importance of this change given the battles families face to get even the most basic support- leading them to feel powerless and overwhelmed by the need to wrestle their way through seemingly endless bureaucratic hurdles.

The ‘Local Offer’

Scope’s amendment would ensure that if a ‘Local Offer’ (which sets out the support available in each area) is deemed not good enough; a local authority has a duty to revise it until it meets the needs of local families and young people.

This would create a situation where local authorities are working together with families, school governors, children’s centres, nurseries- all with the common aim of making support the best it can be.

So far the Government have been unwilling to introduce this mechanism to strengthen the hand of parents; we feel this is of such importance for parents with disabled children and children with SEN that we will continue to work with MPs so that much needed accountability is introduced into the system.

These are the biggest reforms to SEN provision in 30 years and Scope, with your help as part of our Keep Us Close campaign, we will keep on fighting to make them the best they can be and ensure that disabled children are given the support they deserve.

 

MPs speak out on the Children and Families Bill

This is one of those good times when I can tell you your voice is starting to get through to the politicians on something so important.

For the first time earlier this week, MPs debated the Children and Families Bill – what could be the biggest change to support for disabled children in 30 years. Their families are tearing their hair out because they can’t get the support they need in their local area, that’s why over the past few months we’ve been asking for your help as part of the Keep Us Close campaign.

And what you did is starting to work.

Two-thirds of MPs who spoke in the debate talked about disabled children. Nearly half of these raised the issue of local support, some mentioning our campaign specifically.  It’s brilliant and it gives us hope to see all these MPs speaking up for disabled children and their families.

So much of this progress is because of you and more than 20,000 others around the country who’ve spoken up: parents of disabled children, children themselves, friends and relatives, and so many others who care. Whoever you are, thanks so much for taking on this cause.

Our campaign isn’t over and we’ll need to keep pushing.  Sadly, although we have a number of MPs behind us, the Government isn’t doing enough yet. We’ll continue to work with MPs as the Children and Families Bill goes through Parliament and I might need to ask you to do more over the next few weeks or months.

For now, I thought you might like to hear a few highlights of what they said in Parliament – please see below.

Paul Maynard, MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, who has cerebral palsy:
“I know from my own life story how important it is to get this right. I was one of the children whose parents had to fight to get me into a special school, and then fight again to get me back into a mainstream school a few years later… When I was in the mainstream school, my parents had to fight to get the speech therapy I needed to make the most of being in that mainstream school.

It was with some distress and dismay that when I first got elected, I found that the first three cases of my very first constituency surgery were all about parents fighting for their children to get the special educational help they needed from their schools. Thirty years on, nothing much seemed to have changed.”

Angela Smith, MP for Penistone and Stockbridge:
“At the heart of the struggle faced by families with disabled children and those with Special Educational Needs is the unacceptable lack of support for these families close to home… This situation is getting worse, not better, with local authorities now facing cuts of up to 30% of their budgets.

Many councils are therefore being forced to cut services for disabled people, making an already bad situation worse. For example, more than half of councils have cut spending on respite breaks for families, and 77% of local authorities are either making cuts or efficiency savings in services for people with a learning disability.”

Sir Tony Baldry, MP for North Oxfordshire:
“As a Member of Parliament for three decades, I have too often met parents who have felt that they have had to battle for the support they need. They have been passed from pillar to post, and bureaucracy and frustration have faced them at every step.”

David Blunkett, MP for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough:
“Above all, the emphasis should be not just on education and skills but on skills for life that enable people to live independently on equal terms and to be self-reliant… we must ensure that the child’s needs are paramount.”

Peter Aldous, MP for Waveney:
“The Bill is to be welcomed, because while there are examples of good practice, the current system is not fit for purpose. I have been advised of examples where young, vulnerable people and their families have been let down; there are cases in which children have been excluded from activities, such as sports days and swimming, and in which schools have failed to provide support for a child until a medical diagnosis has been received, despite accepting that the child was struggling to access the curriculum.”

Sarah Champion, MP for Rotherham:
“The care system is often disjointed and baffling. Families routinely deal with more than 30 professionals from education, social care, health and other services. It was standard for families to tell me how frustrated they were that they had to say the same thing over and again to different professionals because the information was not shared between departments, let alone between other agencies.

Communication between agencies is generally inadequate, leaving families burdened with the stress of having to navigate their way through an uncoordinated system. All that happens at a time when many families are overwhelmed by their child’s situation. Unfortunately, that experience is common among families of all disabled children. As one constituent said: ‘Unless you shout and fight you don’t get anything. And, to be honest, I’d rather be spending that time with my child instead of battling the system that should be helping us.’