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Spending Review – Opinion piece from Kids Chief Executive, Katie Ghose

Making people’s lives better

‘Making people’s lives better’ – is the firm commitment from the Chancellor, as the government reviews how they are going to spend the budget for the next few years. Launched at the beginning of September, this Spending Review ends on the 27th of October when the Autumn budget is delivered.

The promises sound impressive and include: strong and innovative public services; levelling up around the country; planning for growth. In fact, the NHS, defence and education have already received firm commitments. These promises amount to small percentage increases. They were made pre-pandemic and cannot possibly hope to alleviate the burden on our health, education and care services as they try to meet the gaps that have left shocking waiting lists for diagnosis, therapy and support for disabled children, young people and their families (many of whom may now wait years for the diagnosis they need in order to get support they’re entitled to).

Investing in support

Early investment in support for disabled children is especially effective for both the child’s opportunity to thrive and to prevent costly interventions needed down the road. In the UK 8% of children are disabled. A pound spent at this point saves many more in the future. Levelling up is about equal chances for disabled children to access a good nursery place and later mainstream school, or the right specialist setting. Making people’s lives better is about professional and peer support for parents and siblings so they can enjoy family time together rather than feel overwhelmed by their caring responsibilities. It’s about inclusive and specialist local facilities such as our adventure playgrounds that enable disabled children to enjoy fun, messy play in a safe environment. Early years are vital to the future prospects of disabled children. Support must be provided from 0 to 5 to ensure children and their families enjoy a strong start. The backlog in assessments and waiting lists for services and diagnosis must be urgently dealt with. Nursery places must be accessible, and portage (developmental play sessions for preschool children with additional needs) provided.

Transitioning into adulthood

The transition into adulthood is another crucial time. Every individual has unique talents, yet under-employment of young disabled people, for whom paid work is the right option, remains shockingly high. Investing in teenagers’ well-being, supporting their education (young disabled students are more likely to be excluded) enabling them to gain confidence and softer skills is essential, as is providing pathways into quality opportunities, and tailored in-work support so they can thrive.

The pandemic has shaken up old working patterns; it should be a springboard for employers to think afresh about widening their talent pool and drawing from diverse perspectives to design the best assistive technology, products and services. Government supported access to work programmes helping to create jobs and to support young disabled people aged 16 to 24 should be developed to aid employers to open up their doors and change the dial on the employment of young disabled people. Supported apprenticeships and other models should be available to take the place of the Kickstart scheme.

Supporting children, young people and families

Kids demonstrated how innovative it can be in delivering services during a pandemic to disadvantaged disabled children, young people and families. We continued to reach many people face to face in difficult circumstances, whilst opening up new ways to support and engage with people to ensure they could continue to thrive and develop. Fighting back against the additional impact of the pandemic on disabled children and young people was particularly testing. We worked hard to prevent isolation, support mental health needs, upskill people in digital platforms and enable families to access urgently needed welfare support.

We can see from the people that we work with the evidence that many children and young people now experience ongoing mental and physical health impacts which require additional support. The resourcefulness of families with disabled children was also evident. Amidst numerous challenges, many children and young people with most complex needs demonstrated their ability to acquire digital skills. As our report on digital disadvantage, Locked Out, demonstrated investment is urgently needed to prevent widening divides in accessing education, healthcare, therapies, social networks and basic life maintenance, all now operating through digital access.

The spending review is an opportunity to target funds where they are most needed for those who would most benefit. We urge the Chancellor to hear the voices of disabled people and their families and ensure targeted investment for wrap around support from 0 to 25 to give disabled children and young people the best start for a better future.

We know that support to disabled children, young people and their families can guarantee better outcomes for them and for society. Health and social care must work together to provide the best result, level up and make people’s lives better. Families stay strong and disabled children and young people thrive, needing fewer interventions for the rest of their lives. Investment now reaps incredible rewards.

Unless local authorities have sufficient funding to meet the needs of disabled children, young people and their families in local communities the crisis will only get worse. The Local Government Association is calling for £7.8 billion to bridge the gap it currently faces (having lost nearly £16 billion between 2010 and 2020), to prevent services from collapsing.

A call-to-action

At Kids we’re not complacent, and we’re not asking for handouts. We’re looking at our strategy for the future so that we can respond to the needs of disabled children, young people and their families, in innovative and sustainable ways. We want to work together to ‘make people’s lives better’ and Kids has the skills and experience to deliver services and support that do just that. But those services need funding and we call on the Chancellor to make decisive investments to realise that commitment.