Clause 76 - Registers of sight-impaired adults, disabled adults, etc.

Care Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:30 pm ar 23 Ionawr 2014.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Question proposed,That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Llafur, South Shields

I am grateful for the opportunity to debate the clause, as I believe it limits the requirement for local authorities to keep a register of sight-impaired or disabled children by referring to adults only. The Bill denies support to children and families and misses an opportunity to create a unified register that can support local authorities in managing service users’ transition into adulthood. Such issues are, of course, already recognised in legislation. The Children Act 1989 requires local authorities in England to maintain registers of disabled children, including blind and partially sighted children.

However, as the Minister may be aware, that is often ignored. The Royal National Institute of Blind People has found that 20% of local authorities have no register for disabled children. Even where registers exist, they are often poorly maintained. Six in 10 registers contain 10% or fewer of the disabled children known to the authority through other channels, such as special educational needs statements.

Clearly, the duty needs to be reinforced, and the Bill is an ideal opportunity to do so. The change will not create any new burdens on local authorities but would underline the importance of registers to support disabled individuals, including those who are blind or partially sighted.

The benefits are clear: registers would help children and their families by providing access to additional help and support from the council, including social services and the local education authority. A register can also act as a passport to help for families. Failing to maintain a register means that the passport function is completely lost to families that struggle to cope with the needs of a disabled child. The registers would also benefit local authorities, because they can be used to assess demand in an authority’s area for support and help it commission services now and in the future.

I acknowledge that the Bill already includes clauses covering the transition from child to adult social care, but the transition would be greatly aided by the existence of well-kept registers that are comparable across child and adult services. At the moment, a lack of information about young people entering the adult system leads to disruption for service users and confusion for councils. The clause represents an opportunity to redress that balance.

The Bill, rightly, acknowledges the important role that registers play to ensure that disabled people have access and are guided to appropriate support. However, I believe that there currently is a loophole that makes it more difficult for disabled children and their families to access support, which undermines the Bill’s efforts to join up child and adult social care in a better way. I hope that the Minister will consider my arguments and look to include a requirement for a disabled children’s register in the Bill.

Photo of Norman Lamb Norman Lamb The Minister of State, Department of Health

I fully support the hon. Lady’s intention of ensuring that registers are kept for children as well as adults. However, the Bill’s remit is for adult social care. Although it deals with children’s transition to adult care and support, it does not otherwise cover children’s health or social care.

I am happy to inform the hon. Lady that there is an existing statutory provision in the appropriate legislation that meets her objective. I understand her point that some local authorities may be in breach of that requirement, but such a requirement, which is what she seeks, already exists.

Under schedule 2 to the 1989 Act, every local authority in England is under a duty to maintain a register of disabled children in their area, which will include children who are blind or have a visual impairment. Any changes to this Bill are therefore unnecessary, as they would duplicate an existing statutory duty.

Photo of Heather Wheeler Heather Wheeler Ceidwadwyr, South Derbyshire

It is interesting to hear that there is a statutory requirement on our councils to do that. To put the mind of the hon.  Member for South Shields at rest, I wonder whether it would be beholden on us to ensure that all our councils—we could write to them as individual MPs—are doing that now.

Photo of Norman Lamb Norman Lamb The Minister of State, Department of Health

That is a good suggestion. We all have the potential in our roles to hold our local authorities to account. Perhaps the Local Government Association could help as well. The statutory duty exists, and we need to be getting the message out to local authorities that they need to comply with it.

During the passage of the Children and Families Bill through Parliament, the Government committed to reinforcing the duty—this is an important point too—through that Bill’s statutory code of practice for special educational needs. This will ensure that the local authorities are fully apprised of their duty to maintain this register and to have a clear picture of the numbers of disabled children in their area, including data on low incidence needs such as visual impairment or hearing impairment.

The Children and Families Bill will introduce an enhanced approach to meeting the needs of children and young people with special educational needs and disability. It will require clinical commissioning groups and local authorities to agree joint arrangements for working together for such children with a view to integrating education, health and care plans for children with special educational needs. Identifying these children and maintaining a register will be essential to ensure that the nature of local needs is understood.

I hope hon. Members will join me in welcoming these important steps to ensure that children with special educational needs will have the necessary holistic support to help them fulfil their potential. I hope that I have responded sufficiently to the hon. Lady who raises an important point. The duty is already there and further steps are being taken to reinforce that duty. We can all assist in that regard to apply pressure on local authorities to meet that duty.

Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Llafur, South Shields

I thank the Minister for his response. I am comforted by the changes that are being made through the Children and Families Bill, and I hope that those changes have an effect on the ground. We are talking about the forgotten 80% of children with special needs who go missing from the system when they become adults. I hope the Children and Families Bill achieves what it says it will in that regard, but I am a bit sceptical.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 76 ordered to stand part of the Bill.