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Children’s Commissioner calls for review of support to disabled

14 October 2013

Lyndsey Boardman

UCLan publishes report

Some families with disabled children cannot afford to heat their homes properly and some disabled young people do not have enough food or clothing, according to research published today by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner.

The report on disabled children’s experiences of being raised on low incomes, “We want to help people see things our way” was written for the Office of the Children’s Commissioner by The Centre for Children and Young People’s Participation at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan). Eleven disabled children and young people worked with the University, and co-led the research that informs the report.

The findings are that some families cannot afford the basic necessities a disabled child is entitled to so they can live a dignified life. For many disabled children and their families the impact of low incomes on this inability to meet basic needs was compounded by inadequate access to services, personal support, and helpful information. Although families with disabled children often have rights to welfare payments and practical support, their incomes often do not cover the additional costs of raising and caring for a disabled child.

Most disabled children felt supported by their families, but low incomes affected the ability of some disabled children to experience independence outside of their homes and inclusion in their communities.

Most disabled children had some positive experiences in education but a number reported this was overshadowed by experiences of being bullied, leading to anxiety, isolation and a disrupted education.

“Whilst most feel loved and supported, some cannot afford the basic necessities to live in dignity. This is simply not good enough and breaches their rights.”

Cath Larkins, Co-Director of the Centre for Children and Young People’s Participation at UCLan and lead author of the report, said: “In this research we heard inspiring stories from disabled children and young people, and their families, but despite their efforts some are not achieving a way of life that meets international human rights standards.

“Low income and patchy service provision were key barriers. Some young people resorted to providing food for each other when they did not have enough to eat. Some parents had to struggle for years to get adequate services, and others did not receive the support or equipment which might help keep their children safe.”

The report asks the Government to:

  • undertake an independent review of the adequacy of support for disabled children taking action as necessary
  • ensure disabled children’s views are clearly reflected in decision-making on both welfare reforms and action to tackle child poverty 
  • publish clear, accurate, reliable information about disabled children’s rights, and service provision that will fulfil them
  • ensure all Government departments have greater awareness of disabled children’s rights and their part in ensuring they are fulfilled. 
  • use inspection and workforce training systems to encourage awareness of disabled children’s rights and how they should be met, across local services and all statutory bodies.

It asks that local authorities:

  • audit the accessibility of their youth provision and publish plans on how services with adequate, respectful facilities for disabled children, and staff with the knowledge and information to meet their needs will be provided and sustained,
  • ensure all disabled children who wish to have short-break provision can access this locally
  • ensure disabled children from low income families can access play, sport, leisure and cultural opportunities, including through improved transport services.

“We are working hard to ensure their voices are heard and acted upon by the Government, local authorities and other service providers.”

Maggie Atkinson, Children's Commissioner for England said: “We want to help people see things our way paints a disturbing picture of the lives of many disabled children living in low income families. Whilst most feel loved and supported, some cannot afford the basic necessities to live in dignity. This is simply not good enough and breaches their rights.

“Disabled young people are already some of the most vulnerable members of our society and being raised in poverty makes this even more acute. I am sure the vast majority of us understand we are morally obliged to make sure they are adequately provided for and their rights are fulfilled. That is why we undertook this work and why we are seeking an urgent review of the adequacy of support provided for every disabled child in England.”

Ross Hendry, Director of Policy, Office of the Children’s Commissioner commented: “This research shows low income parents of disabled children struggle to makes ends meet and to access services and support to ensure their children have the same basic things and opportunities we expect all children to be able to enjoy.

“It also shows disabled young people are all too aware of what they could contribute to society but pessimistic about the likelihood of having the resources or opportunities to do so. We are working hard to ensure their voices are heard and acted upon by the Government, local authorities and other service providers.”

A member of the Young People’s steering group who led the research said:
“Some of us feel very lucky, but other disabled children and young people are struggling to get the basic things that make life worth living. Can the people with the power to do something about this please try to understand and do something?”