Rowen appointed Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Disability

August 8, 2007 12:00 AM

Rochdale MP Paul Rowen has been appointed the Lib Dem National Spokesperson for Disability Issues. Mr Rowen said: "I am happy to have been given this key position in the party on such a serious issue. For far too long some of the major obstacles faced by disabled people have been ignored. I will be championing issues involving the disabled and their carers. My main aim will be examing legislation to make sure that disabled people have a voice. I will make sure that disabled people receive full equality so that they can fully participate in UK society."

In a first of a series of reports Paul Rowen examines access for disabled children and young people:

Improving Access for Disabled Children and Young People after ten years of a Labour Government.

This July as the school term ended, three Special Needs schools shut in my constituency of Rochdale. When term starts in September they will be replaced by two brand new units working alongside existing schools. Though there was a celebration of the work of these schools their closure has gone smoothly.

Fifteen years ago when the then Labour controlled Rochdale Council attempted to shut all Special Schools in the borough they were met with widespread opposition and were forced to withdraw the proposal. This mirrors the change in "New Labour policy" from demanding total inclusion to Andrew Adonis MP's recent comment that 'inclusion does not necessarily mean total integration.'

The Prime Minister's Strategy Unit in its report "Improving the Life Chances of disabled people" set out a demanding goal of achieving full equality for disabled people by 2025. Through the Sure Start Programme, the Every Child Matters agenda and the extension of DDA to include all public buildings - a comprehensive platform has been built from which to develop services for disabled children and young people.

Provision on the ground is better. However why was it left to a group of Charities to launch the "Every Disabled Child Matters" Campaign? Yet it is still true that disabled young people are more likely to be bullied or attacked for being different than most other youngsters. As the excellent joint Treasury and DfES report - "Aiming High for Disabled Children: better support for families" published in May this year commented "Good practice is not uniform across the country". This is code for saying practice and spending varies widely from one local authority to another. Disabled people and especially young people are still subject to a post code lottery both between local authorities and between individual schools.

If the Health economy is included then the discrepancies become even greater. Last July I was asked to intervene in the case of a young man who had completed his A Levels and was going off to University. He needed 24 hour care and support. The LEA was prepared to pay its share but the local PCT thought the cost excessive. He got his funding and I'm pleased to say has just successfully completed his first year. I will keep a keen eye on his progress.

As a Deputy Head teacher of a Secondary school in 2004/5 I prepared a full DDA plan on what needed to be done to make my school fully DDA compliant. To date the plan sits on the shelf awaiting funds and I don't believe my old school is different from scores of others across the country.

As a dyslexic child I suffered the ignominy of being classed a slow reader and the stigma that brought. Forty years later my young nephew Elliot was diagnosed dyslexic but my sister told me that he would have to wait for his statement. Needless to say my sister didn't wait, could afford and sought the help of a Dyslexia help group.

These may be isolated examples but I do not believe they are uncommon even in the best run authorities. Liberal Democrats believe the following should be seen as the entitlement for all young people:

A stronger duty on LEAs to provide places in a mainstream school or access to special schooling

A stronger duty on Trust Schools to accept disabled children

A right to advocacy to help parents and their children make decisions on the best provision in their individual case

Disability equality to be part of the citizenship curriculum

Disability equality in teacher training programmes

Radically overhaul the SEN system to one in which the every child has an assessment of their individual learning needs, with clear best practice guidance

Link funding to assessments of learning needs, rather than funding schools on simple headcount that assumes the cost of education every child is identical, regardless of whether they are disabled or have SEN

Ensure there are sufficient statutory requirements on Academies and Trust Schools to take disabled and SEN pupils and to work in co-operation with other schools to meet the needs of such pupils.

A national strategy to provide an equitable and easily understood system for planning, funding and placement of disabled and SEN learners in further and higher education

Centres for Independent Living having a role assisting learners in their transition and brokering provision of further and higher education within the locality or region.

The Comprehensive spending assessment will give us an opportunity to flag up these demands. As an old school report once stated: "Much achieved but still much to do!"