This week a debate will take place in Westminster Hall to discuss how we can help disabled children to achieve their aspirations as they move into adulthood. Great strides have been made in supporting disabled children and their families in recent years, thanks in particular to the Aiming Higher for Disabled Children programme introduced by the Labour government. But I know from conversations with parents in my own constituency that it’s still too often a struggle to secure the support and services they need, and as children become young adults, and want more independence, the challenges increase.
Local authorities have an enormously important role to play in ensuring that the transition from childhood to young adulthood is as smooth as possible. It’s important that the care and services on which disabled young people and their families rely aren’t disrupted as children reach adulthood. Good systems and planning at local authority level can make a significant difference to ensure continuity of provision.
But families have a number of other concerns about the transition, and one in particular will be highlighted again in the debate this week. There remains considerable uncertainty about the government’s intentions in relation to the replacement of disability living allowance with the new personal independence payment. While the government’s announced its plans to introduce PIP for adults in the welfare reform bill (now commencing its passage through the Lords), and has published proposals for the new assessment process, the position in relation to children remains totally unclear.
We know the government hope to introduce PIP in some form for children at some point, once they’ve assessed the effects of its introduction for adults. But when the bill was in committee in the Commons, I pointed out to the minister, Maria Miller, that those children who turned 16 just after the bill was implemented would be among the first people to face the new test for PIP since they’d no longer qualify for DLA. The minister said I shouldn’t make that assumption, but despite further pressure from Every Disabled Child Matters, we still don’t have a clue what that means. Meanwhile, families are very worried that young adults could face the loss of the support that DLA provides, and that is often a lifeline for them.
So I’ll be asking the minister again on Wednesday for details about what’s planned. The problem is I don’t think she actually knows. It’s a characteristic of this government to be out there announcing policies without having the detail properly worked through. In this case, it’s causing great anxiety to disabled young people and their families – the fear of the unknown is a particular worry for example for young people on the autistic spectrum, and the government needs to understand that they need certainty and reassurance.
It’s especially important that they have this at a time when many young people are planning other changes in their lives. They may want to start college or go out to work, they may be thinking about moving into their own place. They’ll need to be certain of their financial position when they’re making these decisions, as any young person would. It simply isn’t good enough if ministers haven’t a clue.
Kate Green is MP for Stretford and Urmston and writes weekly for Progress. Read the rest of her column Kate comments
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
Our work depends on you.