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Every one of the carers I have met is an inspiration and refutes a widespread cynicism that in todays society selfishness matters more than service to others. Having listened to their stories and the challenges they face, I know we must and will do more in the years to come to help. That is why we are announcing the most far-reaching national consultation ever on the future of carers, to encourage the fullest engagement of the very people who would benefit most.
I am very encouraged by the fact that Treasury Ministers have been so actively involved in this issue in recent months and the whole House should take heart from that and trust in the process of the comprehensive spending review.
It has been evident in todays debate that everyone wants the best possible outcome for the families of disabled children so that they can lead ordinary lives. The key to that is matching local provision and need. The current legal framework governing the provision of short breaks or respite care for families with disabled children is contained in the Children Act 1989. Under section 17, local authorities have a general duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in their area who are in need and, provided that it is consistent with the childs safety and welfare, to promote the raising of such children by their families through providing services appropriate to the childs need.
Local authorities identify the extent of that need, including short break services and make decisions about priorities in their local area. That reflects the increasing emphasis on local autonomy and decision making reflected in the local government White Paper, Strong and Prosperous Communities. Having listened to the debate, it is quite evident that many Members feel that many local authorities need a greater focus on this issue. The hon. Member for South-West Devon visited a local authority yesterdayEnfield, which has been mentioned alreadythat is performing exceptionally well within the existing legal framework. It provides foster-based family services, play schemes, after-school clubs, a centre that is open at weekends, play schemes during the summer and many other things as well, which he saw yesterday.
If 150 local authorities were all doing what Enfield is doing now, or doing the things that were mentioned by my hon. Friends in places such as Greater Manchester, more people would realise what can be achieved within the existing legal framework. We must find a way to share that best practice and to ensure that the Enfield example is not an exception.
Work is under way to ensure that the childrens national service framework standard for disabled children is implemented through Every Child Matters. We are
seeing significant local progress not only in Enfield, but in other areas as well. Enfield has successfully provided the menu of options, described by my Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble), that is so important to parents and disabled children. In many cases, the availability not of traditional residential care, but of respite care in their own homes makes a real difference to peoples lives.
I also understand that one of the Enfields great successes is its local hub, around a former residential care home, which has been converted into a special centre in the heart of the local community, making a real difference to local peoples lives. By minimising expensive, disruptive 52-week placements in favour of wider short break care, Enfield has created a successful system within the current legal framework. We need to share such good practice and to learn from local authorities that are successfully delivering short break services to the families of disabled children. I personally think that the debate has been invaluable in that discussion.
Mr. Flello: I shall be extremely briefconscious, as ever, of the comments made by the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Newmark). There is indeed legislative provision to enable forward-looking councils to deliver such services, but is not the point of todays debate to putat the risk of using unparliamentary languagea boot in an appropriate place to make those who are reticent about delivering them get on and deliver them?
I am pleased to announce that we will work closely with the Council for Disabled Children and invest £60,000 to provide national guidance on commissioning short break care services. The work will seek out and identify models of good practice in the delivery of short breaks and evidence on cost-effectiveness and outcomes. The Government are keen that existing spending on short breaks is spent in a cost-effective manner that combines service quality to parents and children and measurable outcomes. The guidance will help to achieve that, and it is what has been requested by very many stakeholders, who have been working hard to achieve it.
Mrs. Humble: I thank my hon. Friend for his comments about commissioning. When he is working on the new commissioning scheme, will he incorporate capacity building within it? We need not just to commission, but to develop the things that are good, especially in those areas where they do not already exist.
The Government have made significant changes to disability legislation, thereby delivering the biggest extension in disability civil rights that this country has ever seen. Most recently, the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 introduced a new duty on public bodies to promote equality of opportunity for disabled people, covering all the functions of public bodies. I am particularly aware of the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Dr. Francis) about the rights of carers
and their understandable feeling that they are likely to be discriminated against. The measure includes local authorities and the social care services they work with.
Disabled people, including disabled children, must be involved in producing new schemes with authorities, taking into account local priorities. The disability equality duty, as it is commonly referred to, has the potential over time to have a significant impact on the delivery of services for disabled children by local authorities. We already know, for example, that local authorities that have developed innovative ways of delivering short breaks have involved not only parents but disabled children in the development of their short break schemes.
Despite the policy framework and the Governments investment, however, the present situation is too hard for too many families. I am talking about parents who need constantly to supervise a disabled child, often to the detriment of the childs siblings; disabled children who are ill at ease in a short break care environment, because those breaks are so infrequent; and families waiting for a short break that never comes.
We are examining proposals to improve the provision of short break services for disabled children and their families in the disabled childrens review. The review considers short break services, but not in isolation. They are considered alongside a range of services that are needed to support disabled children and their families. We do not wish to pre-empt the outcome of the review, which will use the evidence gathered to identify the best way forward. The review will include an appropriate consideration of how to support local authorities in giving priority to disabled childrens services, among the many conflicting pressures that they face. As the Economic Secretary said at the Rachel Squire memorial lecture on Tuesday, the review must balance the importance of making disabled children a local and national priority with the need to maintain local flexibility to allow agencies to develop innovative solutions and a set of local priorities.
As the Economic Secretary announced earlier this week, my Department and the Treasury will work closely together to develop a national disabled children indicator in the new set of public service agreements, supported
across Government at the comprehensive spending review. It was specifically requested in the executive summary of the recent hearings that a national public service agreement target should be developed for services for disabled children. I am pleased to see that the work of my hon. Friends and colleagues in the House is already having an impact in the run-up to the CSR, when it comes to shaping policy. The measure will allow the practices of the best local authorities to be replicated across the country. A national indicator will help to bring about improvements and accountability at a local level.
There is no doubt that the Bill has raised the profile of short break services, but an open-ended legislative commitment is not the best way forward. Although the Government are ultimately unable to support the Bill, we are fully committed to addressing the problems that exist in the current system. Short breaks are a comparatively small, yet invaluable, part of our plans for improvements in social care policy that we have implemented since 1997 and that we will continue to implement.
As I have previously suggested, the timing of the debate is unfortunate, because it falls before the outcomes of both the disabled childrens review and the comprehensive spending review. The disabled childrens review has a definite process and timetable, and is linked directly, as I have said, to the outcome of the comprehensive spending review. However, we intend to make new policy proposals to improve the provision of services for disabled children and their families, including short breaks. I cannot be any more categoric than that, and I hope that that is what my hon. Friends hoped to hear from me. The new proposals will reflect the evidence gathered by the disabled childrens review and identify the best ways of ensuring that there is an effective provision of services to secure delivery and maximise impact.
The Bill is not the end of a process, but a staging post on the path to improving short breaks provision. I think that the whole House would like to close the debate by joining me in praising all those who are dedicating their time
Helen Southworth (Warrington, South) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I seek your advice? As research by the Childrens Society has shown that 8,000 children in the UK are hurt or harmed every year while running away from home or care, should not the House give time to consider how we can better safeguard them?
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): The arrangement of the business of the House is not a matter for the Chair. I am sure that it would be open to the hon. Lady and like-minded colleagues to find other ways of pursuing a matter that is of obvious concern to her.
Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): Kingston council gets one of the worst grant settlements in the country. That has been the case for some time, which is why I have raised Kingstons case many times before, perhaps most infamously when Ministers wanted to rewrite the map of Greater London and put Kingston into a group of east London boroughs in a way that would have cut our grant. On that occasion, to be fair to Ministers, they listened to me. However, I have to say candidly to the Minister that Kingstons case is too often ignored. Indeed, the case for south-west London boroughs, such as Kingston, Richmond, Merton and Sutton, has continuously been ignored by this Government and their Conservative predecessors.
I have been sparked into requesting todays debate by the financial settlement for Kingston next year. From an historically bad situation, next years settlement is pushing the borough over the edge. It will bring about a sharp real-terms cut in the grant and thus, as night follows day, cuts in services accompanied by continued increases in our already high council tax. Today, I want to demand a fair deal for Kingston.
The facts of Kingstons budgetary position are stark. The council is a low-spend, high-tax authority. When the local tax is high and the local spend is low, it should be obvious that the problem lies with the low grant that Kingston receives from Whitehall. Let me examine those facts in more detail. Last year, Kingston spent £687 a resident. The average London borough spent £852, nearly £200 more. Until the Government removed education funding from council spending, Kingston was either the second or third lowest spending authority in London. Without education included in the figures, it is still the 10th lowest spending authority. The independent Audit Commission confirms that
the council is providing good quality services at a relatively low cost.
I am sure that the council could spend less, and spend better. It is embarking on a programme to cut £22 million from its budget, which is a shade over £100 million, over the next four years. In other words, it has to save a fifth of its current budget. Think of what that means on the ground. In the coming year, there will be 70 job cuts, with five senior management posts going, and 59 potential consequential redundancies, many of them front-line jobs. A childrens home will close, and eligibility criteria for elderly care will be tightened, so that only those with the greatest need will qualify for local authority support. The council is consulting on reducing the number of day care facilities for the elderly. In other words, there are to be cuts across the board in a four-year efficiency drive.
That is not unusual for Kingston. The new efficiency savings will be on top of the £48 million in savings and extra income generation, aside from that gained through council tax, that the council has achieved over the past 12 years. Residents understandably find it difficult to believe that Kingston is a low-spending
borough, as they are paying the highest council tax in London. As the Minister knows, Kingston is a high-tax authority for one reason: the unfairly low grant given by the Treasury and her Department.
Let me put the situation as starkly as I can. In 2006-07, Kingston received £217 per person in central Government grant, whereas the average London borough got £493 per residentmore than twice as much. I understand that some boroughs have greater social needs, and I accept that. No one from Kingston is proposing that we should get the same as Lambeth or Tower Hamlets, but there must come a point at which redistribution becomes unfair, and at which the gross disparities in grant allocation become totally out of kilter with reality. I should add that in Kingston there are pockets of severe deprivation, and there are seriously vulnerable children and young adults. I feel strongly about that; nearly 10 years ago, I used an Adjournment debate to dispel the myth that the Deputy Prime Minister was putting about that Kingston is a leafy borough. Many parts of Kingston are good places to live, but I showed in that debate that average earning levels are near the London average, not way above it. A small number of seriously wealthy residents skew the figures, and there is a large tail of hard-working families and struggling pensioners on modest pensions.
Let me once again illustrate the unfairness in our grant allocation. If Kingston got the same grant per resident as the average London borough, our council tax would be the lowest in London. If we got the same grant per resident as Hammersmith and Fulham, which is proudly cutting its council tax by 3 per cent. this year, Kingston could cut its council tax by 80 per cent. Because of our low grant, for every pound that Kingston council spends, the council tax payer must cough up 68p. For every pound that the average London borough spends, the average council tax payer pays only 42p. The Government are forcing us to raise far more of our budget locally than other boroughs, using the most unfair tax in Britain today, the council tax.
I hope that the Minister is beginning to understand why my constituents want a better deal for Kingston, and why a large number of them have come to Westminster today to demonstrate, and I thank them for their support. Let me give the House other examples of how we get a bad deal in Kingston. Kingston council collects £67 million in business rates for the Exchequer, but we get back just £27 million. On top of that, we get a grant of only £5.3 million. In other words, the combined support that we get from central Government is less than half the cash that we are forced to send out of the borough.
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