Down Syndrome Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:54 pm on 4th February 2022.

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Photo of Feryal Clark Feryal Clark Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care) 1:54 pm, 4th February 2022

I pay tribute to Dr Fox for introducing this important Bill. I also pay tribute to all the hon. Members who have contributed today and thank them for the wonderful personal accounts that we have heard, especially from Siobhan Baillie, who told us about her sister and nephew.

As we have heard, there are about 47,000 individuals in the UK with Down syndrome. We know that they are at increased risk of some medical conditions, more susceptible to infections, and more prone to hearing and visual impairments. It is recommended that those individuals should have extra health checks in early life and regular health reviews thereafter. They may also need ongoing support for different aspects of life both in childhood and as adults. People with Down syndrome and their families are often reported as struggling to access services such as speech and language therapy, additional support in school and appropriate levels of social care. I very much welcome the measures in the Bill that seek to address those challenges.

I also support the Bill for personal reasons. At the same time I became a mother about eight months ago, some friends of mine, Sevcan and Richard, had a baby boy called Asher. He is a bundle of joy and he also has Down syndrome. In the very short time that Asher has been in this world, he has had many challenges and many operations. I see Asher’s family already struggling and having to fight for him, and I see them getting ready to continue that fight, like the families mentioned by so many hon. Members today.

The experience of Asher’s parents has given me an insight into the challenges faced by families with Down syndrome children, and it was that insight that encouraged me to stand for election as the vice-chair of the all-party group for Down syndrome. As vice-chair, I know the impact that properly informed and resourced services can have on those living with Down syndrome. Too often they are forced into provision or services that are just not suitable for their needs. That means they are unable to access the support they need, whether that be education, healthcare or housing.

Being unable to access those services properly means the life experiences and the quality of life of people with Down syndrome can be seriously affected. By ensuring that the relevant authorities—the NHS, schools or local authorities—have the correct guidance, we will have a very real impact on the experience of those living with Down syndrome. It is incumbent on all of us as policy makers to ensure that people in this country, regardless of who they are, can live as full lives as possible. I am pleased that the Bill is taking the steps to better enable people with Down syndrome to do so. For that reason, I am pleased to support the Bill today and I look forward to it progressing in the other place.