Opposition Day — [3rd Allotted Day]
Jeremy Hunt (Shadow Minister (the Disabled), Work & Pensions; South West Surrey, Conservative)
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I know that he has spoken on the matter in the House on many occasions. I commend the work of many of the campaigning organisations, such as I CAN, which have done a great deal of work on speech and language therapy. Of particular concern is the finding that 50 per cent. of five-year-olds are at risk of falling behind and possibly moving into social exclusion if the challenges that communication presents for them are not addressed immediately. That figure rises to 80 per cent. of children in socially deprived areas.
In the debate, I shall examine not only the problems faced by parents and carers of disabled children, but why, unless we tackle the link between disability and poverty, the Government will fail to make progress towards their child poverty targets. Let us start, though, by looking at the challenges faced by a parent who has a disabled child. I was talking to some mothers of disabled children in Essex and in London last week. They spoke about the mind-boggling complexity of the benefits system, which requires them to fill out eight different forms—for the carer's allowance, the carer's premium in income support, child tax credits, child benefit, the community care grant from the social fund, disability living allowance, disabled facilities grant and housing benefit.
I have all the forms. I know that this is a subject in which you take a great interest, Madam Deputy Speaker, and on which you might have wanted to contribute had you not been Deputy Speaker. Can you guess how many questions we ask a parent in that situation to answer? The answer is 1,118 questions spread over 273 pages. Let us be clear—those parents are probably in the most vulnerable situation in their lives, which could lead to the break-up of their marriages, if they are married. They almost certainly see a significant drop in their disposable income. What do we do? We make them take an exam.
One cannot accuse the people who write the forms of not having a sense of humour. Part 22 of the disability living allowance form for adults, in the section headed "Communicating with other people", asks:
"Do you have problems ... filling out forms?"
The form continues:
"Describe in your own words the problems you have and the help you need".
Many of the questions on the forms are not designed for simple yes or no answers—they require a paragraph of prose describing one's situation. That is much more difficult for socially disadvantaged parents than for articulate, middle-class parents who are capable of fighting for their rights.