Peers are urging the government to ensure that local authorities have a firm duty to provide disabled children and young people with the social care part of the coalition’s new education, health and care plans (EHCPs).
The birth-to-25 plans – which will replace statements of special educational needs and will set out all the support a family should receive – are a key part of the children and families bill, which has nearly completed its progress through parliament.
The crossbench peer Lord [Brian] Rix proposed an amendment this week – during the bill’s continuing report stage – which would impose a duty on local authorities to provide the social care element of a child’s EHCP, and pointed out that the bill already imposed similar duties on the education and health parts.
The disabled crossbench peer Lord [Colin] Low, who supported the amendment, said there was “very little point in assessing a child or young person’s needs, identifying social care needs and putting them in the education and health plan, and then not making the plan enforceable in respect of social care”.
The disabled Labour peer, Baroness [Rosalie] Wilkins, added: “For this system to be truly joined up, all parts of the education, health and care plan need to be enforceable; otherwise, social care will be, as has been described, the poor cousin – the element within the EHC plan that will be considered to be of least importance.”
More than 1,000 people have written to the government to ask it to “ensure that social care will be an equal partner in education, health and care plans”, she said.
Lord Nash, the Conservative junior education minister, said the government would bring forward an amendment at the bill’s third reading to “address some of those concerns”.
But he said that, “as a targeted service for vulnerable children and young people, social care is different from education and health services”.
Lord Low also backed another of Lord Rix’s amendments to the bill, which would ensure a single point of appeal for EHCPs, rather than forcing families to launch three separate appeals if their child’s needs cut across the three areas of education, health and social care.
Lord Low said that it made no sense to create EHCPs “with a view to sweeping away barriers of bureaucracy by putting in place an integrated system of provision, and then give people a wholly unintegrated system of enforcing their entitlement”.
Lord Nash told peers that work was “already in hand to improve the situation”, and that the government had announced that day a £30 million fund to recruit more than 1,800 independent supporters, who would help parents obtain the services their children were entitled to under the EHCP process.
But he said there were “significant” problems with pulling the three appeal systems together, although it was “something that we are taking seriously and are in active discussions, which will continue, with the Department of Health”.
He said he hoped to confirm a “strong package” of measures by the time of the bill’s third reading.
Lord Nash also stated that there was a “clear duty” in the Equality Act for education and training providers to make reasonable adjustments so that disabled people were not put at a disadvantage compared to other learners.
He made the clarification in response to concerns raised by Lord Addington, the Liberal Democrat peer, who has been trying for more than three years to help apprentices with dyslexia who have been unable to obtain their final qualifications because they could not pass the compulsory English or maths test.
Lord Nash paid tribute to Lord Addington’s “passion and persistence” on the issue, and said the government would remind education and training providers of their duty “to support young people with learning difficulties or disabilities and of their responsibility for providing reasonable adjustments, including the use of assistive technology where appropriate”.
He said that clear information would be provided on the National Apprenticeship Service website outlining the support available to disabled apprentices, and including information about assistive technology and reasonable adjustments.
The minister also announced measures to help those who had failed the tests in past years because of a failure to make reasonable adjustments.
Lord Addington, who himself has dyslexia, praised the minister, who he said had “probably made the lives of a substantial number of people considerably better by his actions”.
But he added: “Unfortunately he should not – as I should not – have had to battle away for this long.”
9 January 2014