The Government must act to reduce the stark inequalities in disabled children’s health and care

With Aidan Smith, Campaign Officer at the Disabled Children’s Partnership

Even though many services have been restored, we're far from out of the woods completely yet. We were hoping that the COVID recovery money in the recent Spending Review would have targeted dedicated money for families of disabled children, but that wasn't the case.

Today, The Disabled Children's Partnership has led a group of almost 70 charities and organisations, including SNJ, in an open letter to Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, demanding better for our disabled children who face inequalities in health, education and care. DCP's Campaigns Officer, Aiden Smith, has written about the letter and what the Government needs to do to help.

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How are you helping Disabled Children recover from COVID, Mr Javid? by Aiden Smith, DCP

Today, a broad group of nearly 70 organisations and charities that support disabled children, young people, parent carers and siblings have written to the Secretary of State for Education, Nadhim Zahawi, and the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Sajid Javid. 

Organised by the Disabled Children’s Partnership (DCP), the letter demands urgent clarification how the funds released at Rishi Sunak’s Spending Review last month will address the stark inequalities in disabled children’s health and care.

We believe that every parent carer deserves the right to breathe, and live free from exhaustion, isolation and pain – and every child deserves the right to the same opportunities to develop and contribute alongside their peers. The crisis in disabled children’s health and care services is fundamentally undermining these rights. The government must act.

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Why action to cut inequalities is urgently needed

“The complete loss of respite care was simply exhausting. We had formal, informal and family arrangements. We lost them all. Couple that with school closures and it’s been incredibly hard. We are physically and emotionally exhausted.” 

Parent carer answering a DCP survey

Throughout 2021, the DCP has been researching the impact of the pandemic with disabled children and families. The results have been shocking. 

Vital health and care services like physiotherapy and short breaks, which were already underfunded, stretched and inadequate before the pandemic have been further restricted, creating a cataclysmic impact on the mental and physical health of families.

Over 80% of families saw a reduction in both formal and informal support, such as like short breaks. As respite care was restricted, many families took on additional caring responsibilities without support. This has created stark knock-on impacts on the mental health of parents, exacerbating already high levels of relationship breakdown and leading to a large increase in social isolation.

DCP surveys also showed that over 70% of disabled children have been unable to access pre-pandemic levels of therapies and health services. Ultimately, as opportunities to manage conditions were lost, nearly three-quarters of disabled children have seen their development at managing their condition regress.

We are not through this. A huge backlog in services and assessments remain, creating a ticking time bomb of unmet need. The longer these delays last, the worse the situation gets.

Aiden Smith
Aiden Smith

Disappointment in the Spending Review

The state of support was dire even before COVID. The Gap Widens, a joint report by the disability equality charity, Scope, and the DCP exposed a £534 million funding gap in disabled children’s social care even before the pandemic as local authority budgets were regularly cut. 

Therefore, it was disappointing to see last month's Government Spending Review fail to implement any dedicated recovery policies for disabled children, or address long-term funding gaps and inequalities in the system. However, it was welcome to see some encouraging signs that the government is tentatively starting to recognise the need to invest in support for disabled children and their families, such as through additional specialist education places.

But specialist education places won’t in themselves get children the therapies they need. They won’t provide short breaks. They won’t address the years of injustices in disabled children’s health and care. Equally, while the non-ring-fenced pots of money for education recovery, local authorities and the NHS announced at the Spending Review sound large, they will have many competing calls. Without direction from government, it is far from clear how they will be used to address the gaps in provision and urgent backlogs in disabled children’s services.

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The government must prove they mean what they say

Last Monday, in the House of Commons, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Sajid Javid said in response to a question on the urgent backlogs in disabled children’s services, “There is nothing more important than our children.”

We are calling on the government to prove they mean it. They must clarify how Spending Review funds will get families with disabled children the respite, short breaks, health services and other support they are entitled to in order to live a better quality of life. We are demanding fairness.

You can also read the open letter on the DCP’s twitter page, and you can sign up to our campaign on our website.

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By Aidan Smith, Campaign Officer at the Disabled Children’s Partnership (Twitter: @AidanSmith_27)

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