You might remember that last year I went to Westminster along with Stacie Lewis of Mama Lewis fame, Hannah Postgate from Rosy & Bo and Mr Boo's mum from Premmeditations to assist with the all-party Parliamentary Inquiry into childcare for disabled children. We gave evidence to testify for our experiences of trying, and failing, to find appropriate and adequate childcare for our children, who all have different disabilities and care needs.
We made suggestions for what some of the solutions might be to help enable parent carers (and particularly mothers) to be able to work. For many of us being able to work isn't simply a 'lifestyle choice' (as some of us have been told by the local authorities who are supposed to support us), but it is a financial imperative.
As it is for most families.
Our needs and desires to work are no different because we happen to have a child with disabilities. And yet finding childcare is, all too often, impossible because providers are often not set up to cater for individual needs or, if they can and are willing (i.e. gold dust!), the cost is prohibitive to all but the extremely wealthy.
It was a privilege to be able to take part in democracy in action and to converse openly with the MPs and peers involved in the Inquiry. My eyes were opened to a hugely productive part of our political system that we just don't see via the media lens which is so often focused on the negative.
The Inquiry led to the launch of a report of recommendations for resolving the issue of childcare for disabled children. But, well, what next?
How does this report translate into real change?
Through continued campaigning and pressure on decision makers.
Recently the 'Counting the Costs' campaign by Contact a Family was particularly hard hitting in its openness and recognition of the enormous additional costs associated with having a child with disabilities - and therefore the additional imperative on families with disabled children to be able to provide an income for themselves.
And the hard work is starting to pay off.
It's incredibly early days, and with a General Election just around the corner there is still a huge amount of work to do, but on Monday came a fantastic piece of news.
The Government has decided to introduce legislation to double the maximum amounts that parents of disabled children can pay in to their Tax-Free Childcare Schemes, in recognition of the higher childcare costs that parents of disabled children face, all too often making childcare massively more expensive than the salary it would enable a parent to earn.
Here's the lowdown from the Government consultation response:
“Representations were made during consultation that additional support should be provided for disabled children in view of the generally higher childcare costs their parents can face. Similar comments were also made during the Bill’s Commons Committee stage when the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury made a commitment to consider this matter further.
Having considered this, the Government has decided to introduce legislation to increase the maximum amount that parents of disabled children can pay into their childcare accounts, in recognition of the higher childcare costs these families incur. For accounts for disabled children, the maximum payment for a standard three month entitlement period will be doubled to £4,000. This means that a parent with a disabled child will be able to pay up to £16,000 into their childcare account per year and receive top-up payments of up to £4,000. This will be achieved by amending section 19 of the Act through a separate statutory instrument.”
This is a very important first step on the path to levelling the childcare playing field. And it opens a window for further change to address the still significant challenges, some of which I will recap:
- Only a quarter of local authorities say they have enough childcare to meet the needs of the disabled children within their locality.
- Almost half of parent carers cannot access the 15 hours preschool education to which all children are entitled.
- Childcare provision is often completely lacking in its ability to be inclusive for disabled children, either through lack of understanding of what can and should be done to allow disabled children to join childcare settings, or through lack of adequate specialist support from the local authority to provide training, resources and adaptations.
There remains an expectation among local authorities that parent carers of disabled children don't (or perhaps shouldn't) work. It is this that is all too often so damaging and it is this that urgently needs challenging if we are to make headway in enabling parent carers to fulfil their legal right to work.
We are lucky in that we live in an area where the local authority is willing to do things differently, and prides itself on providing good quality support to people with disabilities and their families, and yet even here, for our own part, we are still reliant on family to provide after-school help that enables me to keep working. Without this, we'd be in seriously dire straights.
There is still an enormous amount to do, but we pause for a moment to celebrate this small but significant win.