HC Deb 06 November 2000 vol 356 cc67-8W
Mr. Coaker

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what assessment he has made of the availability of respite care to the carers of children with learning difficulties; and if he will make a statement. [135536]

Mr. Hutton

There has been no specific survey of how many learning-disabled children there are; the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys (OPCS) surveys in 1989 estimated that there were 327,000 disabled children under 16 in England and Wales. This estimate represents 3.2 per cent. of the population and is lower than other estimates. It is generally accepted that this estimate although dated, remains valid.

OPCS has also estimated that two thirds of the 110,000 most severely disabled children did not receive any support services. We can also estimate that two thirds of the most disabled 16 and 17-year-olds will receive no service—that gives a figure of about 11,500.

Of the families covered in the OPCS private households survey, only a third of the children in the 5–15 age group or their families had received a domiciliary service in the previous year, and although the rate rose to almost four-fifths among the children under five, this was mainly attributable to health visiting.

The inspection by the Social Services Inspectorate of services to disabled children and their families, published in 1998, identified a heavy demand for services in all local authorities.

The Learning Disability Strategy, to be published early next year, will address the needs of learning-disabled people of all ages. Our consultation with experts in the field and service users has emphasised the importance of increased family support.

On 27 September, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced that we will increase the amount of money put aside specifically to support carers in England through the Carers Special Grant from £50 million this year to £70 million in 2001–02, £85 million in 2002–03 and £100 million in 2003–04.

This funding will more than double from £120 million this year to £290 million by 2003–04. This is an unprecedented investment in the future of some of the most vulnerable children in our country. I expect that at least £15 million of next year's special grant will be dedicated to the new priority area: disabled children. This money will be spent on a wide range of services, including both home based and respite care.