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									                            CHILDCARE BILL
         HOUSE OF LORDS SECOND READING - TUESDAY 21 MARCH 2006

Introduction
Working Families is a campaigning charity which supports and gives voice to
working families and carers, particularly those who are disadvantaged. We also
support a network of 2000 parents of disabled children who work, or wish to
work.

We strongly support the Childcare Bill as it will encourage the provision of
affordable, quality childcare. We are pleased to see the duty on local authorities
(in Clause 6 of the Bill) to secure sufficient childcare for working parents, and
welcome the emphasis on parents of disabled children.

Working Families endorses the briefing on the Childcare Bill from the Early
Childhood Forum. This briefing concentrates on the importance of childcare for
parents of disabled children. Our key concerns are:
         the cost and provision of childcare for disabled children
         the importance of appropriate advice and support for parents to allow
          them to return to work.

The cost of childcare for disabled children
The families of disabled children tend to be amongst the poorest, and face much
greater costs in caring for their children. It costs on average three times as much
for a family to raise a disabled child as another child1. The most recent poverty
statistics reveal that the risk of low income for individuals in households with a
disabled child is 28 per cent2.

Parents of disabled children face considerable barriers to employment
today. Appropriate, affordable childcare is extremely important to these
parents. The first barrier is the assumption that parents of disabled children do
not work. Working Families believes that it is critically important for the
parents of disabled children to be economically active, if they wish to be,
for their own wellbeing, for the wellbeing of their children, and to act as role
models for the disabled adult their child will become.


1
    Dobson, Barbara and Middleton, Sue, Paying to Care: the costs of childhood disability. YPS 1998
2
    Households below average income statistics. DWP March 2007
The assumption that parents of disabled children don’t work leads to local
authorities and other organisations making decisions about the level of care
required. Parents of disabled children in our “Waving not drowning” network tell
us that many local authorities assume that any care gaps will be met by the
parent.

One parent of a disabled child described the situation:
“I was told that my child would receive x hours support from the local authority. But this
didn’t include childcare cover in the school holidays. They assumed that I would provide
all the school holiday childcare! I had to explain to them that I was in work, and only had
so many days annual leave that I could use. This simply wouldn’t cover all the school
holidays. So the authority had to come up with another solution”.

In this case, the parent successfully negotiated more cover from the local
authority. But for others, the assumption that the parent will just pick up the gaps
makes the dual demands of work and childcare too much to bear. Appropriate
and affordable childcare for disabled children is a major concern for our parents:

 “Luckily my son’s mainstream school has a good afterschool club...However school
holidays are a nightmare! This summer, my son had to move holiday clubs twice – very
distressing for all of us. Finding local, suitable and affordable childcare for children with
special needs is very difficult, especially if the child’s condition results in challenging
behaviour (like my son)”. (a parent of a child with Aspergers Syndrome)

There is a particular gap for older children and young people who may still
need supervision at a time when their peers are becoming more
independent. Working Families supports the proposed MENCAP amendment to
Clause 6 of the Bill to extend the duty to secure sufficient childcare for disabled
children up to the age of 18. This would be consistent with the current legislation
allowing parents of disabled children the right to request flexible working until
their child reaches 18.

Parents in our “Waving not drowning” network report that a particularly difficult
time comes when the disabled child reaches 16 and leaves full time schooling.
The needs of a disabled child or young person may be very different from their
more independent peers. College hours may be shorter than school hours, and
transport arrangements may not be provided to suit the individual’s needs.
Disabled children – particularly those with severe mobility problems or with
learning disabilities – may need carers to help them access mainstream clubs.

Parents tell us that the lack of support for older disabled children means that they
may be forced to give up work as their child reaches 16, just at the time that
other parents are able to expand their working hours.

The benefits available to parents of disabled children can also act as a
barrier to employment. For example, the childcare element of the Working Tax
Credit (WTC) fails to take into account the additional costs of caring for disabled
children. Parents are able to claim 70 per cent (rising to 80% in April) of their
childcare costs up to £175 per week for one child or £300 per week for two or
more children. However, the same amount is available to all parents. Those
with physical difficulties or challenging behaviour may need more care than a
non-disabled child, or one-to one care, and this is inevitably more expensive.
The childcare element of Working Tax Credit also assumes that the childcare is
needed on a regular basis. However, children with disabilities tend to have more
time off school for illness or hospital appointments, so the claim for childcare can
vary from one week to another. This causes complications when calculating
WTC, and some parents of disabled children find themselves overpaid and
required to pay back some of their WTC.

When parents do take on work, the whole of their Carers Allowance (currently at
£45.70 per week) is cut off as soon as they earn over £82 per week net. This
acts as a deterrent to those on Carers Allowance taking on more hours. A further
concern is that Carers Allowance is not available for parents in education. We
would like to see the cut off tapered for parents of disabled children, so that they
are not left in the anomalous position of being poorer in work than out of work.

Helping parents back to work
For many carers of disabled children, a part time job is all they can manage in
addition to their caring responsibilities. The right to request flexible working for
parents of disabled children, and tax credits have done much to help these
parents back in to work. But the right to request is simply a right to ask, not to
have flexible working, and there is a requirement that an employee should have
been in work for 26 weeks before they can make a request. This makes it
difficult for parents of disabled children to look for part time or flexible work.

Parents of disabled children tell us of the complex benefits system they have to
navigate, and the lack of a central point of information. Parents of disabled
children can find it difficult to access information or the services that are
available:
 “Working full-time means I am unable to access the support groups that are available in
the day. At night, I cannot easily get out as I have to care for my daughter”.

Parents attending our recent forum were keen to share information about how to
access their entitlements, for example to incapacity benefit or to council tax
benefit. The difficult years from 16 to 18 when a disabled child goes through the
transition from child to adult services are a point of particular need.

We welcome the provisions in the bill that make local authorities the key point of
contact. Clause 12 gives local authorities a duty to “establish and maintain” a
service to provide parents with information about childcare in their area, as well
as other services and facilities that may benefit children or young people.

Facilities available for disabled children may be highly specialist. Working
Families would like to see local authorities providing information across authority
boundaries. Where a neighbouring borough provides a service not available
locally, this should be highlighted.

For further information please contact Elizabeth Gardiner on 0207253 7243 or email
Elizabeth.gardiner@workingfamilies.org.uk

								
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