HL Deb 16 January 1996 vol 568 cc462-4

3.6 p.m.

Lord Ashley of Stoke asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have considered the research report on disabled children and their families, Expert Opinions, by the Social Policy Research Unit of York University, and what were their conclusions.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege)

Yes, my Lords. Our conclusions are that it is a useful report and reflects the Government's recently published document, Building Partnerships for Success.

Lord Ashley of Stoke

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the expert opinions in this survey are particularly valuable because they are those of the parents of disabled children who therefore speak from direct personal experience? Is she further aware that most reported at least one unmet need; and over half reported at least five unmet needs? These families are particularly deprived and suffer severely and disproportionately. Therefore, should not the Government offer to help very much more than they do at present?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord; these parents have a very, very difficult task. I also believe that, on the whole, mothers know best. The Government have a very good record in trying to help parents who have disabled children. The noble Lord will know that only this year we made a grant through the Family Fund of £23 million to families with severely disabled children. We have also helped through social security and housing adaptations, and we have helped carers through the Carers (Recognition and Services) Act, which was passed by this House last year.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that many of the children who survive today would not have survived 15 or 20 years ago, and that the stresses put on parents with very severely disabled children are far greater than, I think, any of us would be able to tolerate? Will she kindly look into the provision of much more respite care, or care within the child's home, so that at least the parents can get a break? Many go for nights and nights without sleep because their children are crying all the time.

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, the noble Countess makes a very valid point. The special transitional grant for this year includes an additional £30 million for respite care. Looking at the additional £20 million that was spent last year, we see that there is more respite care around. The noble Countess is right that it should be targeted, and these families probably need it more than most.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, does the Minister accept—I am sure she does—that disabled children create disabled families? I am very glad that she mentioned the carers' recognition Act. Will she tell the House what her department is doing to ensure that the provisions of the carers' recognition Act, introduced in this House by my noble friend Lord Carter, are being acted upon? Without being discourteous, I hope her reply will not be simply that the department is issuing advice to local authorities and health authorities.

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I am pleased that I shall not disappoint the noble Baroness. In fact, there is now a requirement for local authorities to publish children's services plans. That will be mandatory from 1st April this year, to come into effect next year. It will take into account the wishes and the needs of parents as carers.

Lord Ashley of Stoke

My Lords, I know that the Minister wants to help. I take her point about the family fund and carers. But will she accept that this report is a stunning indictment of our society and families who arc suffering? It is not good enough simply to recite what has been done. Far more needs to be done in the future. If the Government abdicate from their responsibilities, the suffering will simply continue. Will the Minister go back to the Secretary of State and say that representations have been made and a valid report, substantiated by the families themselves, has been published? Will she ask him whether something more can be done?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I was told that when the report was launched the noble Lord made an impressive speech. He said that he would start the ball rolling by asking this Starred Question today. I think that it is not so much a ball and more of a bullet. I shall go back to my honourable friend the Secretary of State and clearly we shall see what more can be done. The Government's record on this matter is very good indeed.