Disabled Children

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:14 pm on 3rd February 2003.

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Photo of Lord Chan Lord Chan Crossbench 8:14 pm, 3rd February 2003

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, on securing this short debate highlighting the needs of families with disabled children. I shall focus on the needs of ethnic minority families with disabled children whom I have met in the north of England.

The Barnardo's report Still Missing Out?, which has been referred to in the debate, found that,

"Minority ethnic families are more likely to have low incomes and unsuitable housing".

As the cost of raising a child with severe impairment is said to be three times more than that of raising a non-disabled child, most, if not all, ethnic minority families with disabled children live in poverty. Child poverty in inner London affects 600,000, or 53 per cent of children. Poverty is highest among ethnic minority groups, with 73 per cent of Pakistani and Bangladeshi children in inner London and 55 per cent of black children living in poverty.

Many ethnic minority families are less able to access services due to their limited English and knowledge of available services. Information in south Asian languages and in Chinese is lacking. This lack of translated information has serious consequences, because ethnic minority families with disabled children tend to be economically disadvantaged by not claiming disability living allowance. This loss of disability living allowance is a significant loss to meeting the needs of their disabled children, including clothes, food and equipment. Most ethnic minority families are definitely still missing out.

Ethnic minority families face other barriers from mainstream providers, such as institutional racism in the form of insensitivity to culture, other languages and religions and stereotypes concerning family support networks that are no longer common. The extended family is no longer the norm among black people, Chinese and even Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and Indians.

Among some Chinese and south Asian families, there is still a stigma attached to disability. This makes them reluctant to seek help from their own community. Therefore, minority ethnic parents feel isolated from their own communities and cannot go out to social events or attend places of worship. Among south Asian communities in northern England, about one in five families with disabled children are single-parent families.

Short breaks for disabled children are a popular service with parents and carers. Ethnic minority families do not have equal access to this service. A review of short breaks for disabled children from minority ethnic families was commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and published in May 2002. It found that mainstream services for disabled children do not adequately cater for ethnic minority children, while services for ethnic minority groups do not adequately cater for disabled children.

High levels of unmet need were found among south Asian families in particular. They prefer home-based services such as sitting and befriending, but these services are not easily available for ethnic minority families with disabled children through social services.

Further, misconceptions about the role of social services and social work increase parents' anxiety about whether their child's culture, language and religion will be respected. Therefore, there is a reliance on poorly resourced voluntary groups in their communities. A shortage of black social workers and short break carers means that services cannot adequately represent the communities they serve. In Liverpool this problem led to the establishment of a bilingual Chinese work unit in 1986 that is still valued today.

Government policies to end child poverty are not reaching disabled children, particularly from ethnic minority families. I support the recommendations made by Barnardo's to give the families of disabled children better access to existing funds, such as the disability living allowance, and to extend other schemes for their benefit. All disabled people in Britain are entitled to basic living standards. Children should be given opportunities to express themselves through art, craft and technology.

I had the pleasure of opening an exhibition of art by disabled people in Wirral at the Bebington Civic Library on 14th January this year. That display of high quality work was the result of a partnership between the Rotary Club and the Conquest Art Group from London. Disabled people in Wirral express themselves particularly well through art. We need to help both disabled children and their families to take advantage of similar opportunities.

Finally, the Government have done much for children. I look forward to the Minister telling us what will be done to help ethnic minority families with disabled children receive the services to which they are entitled and ensure that they do not miss out.