Life in Politics column by Fabian Hamilton MP: ‘Children are being consistently let down’

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Local government is being starved of funding for young people with Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND) to the point where children are now being consistently let down.

As local authorities are stripped of funding, many children with SEND are missing out on schooling – often for months – with cash-strapped schools failing to deliver basic support. This is particularly true of academies, where lines of accountability are blurred by the fact they are not responsible to the local authority.

Furthermore, SEN appeals succeed in 9 out of 10 cases, meaning that the vast majority of children being stripped of services actually do need – and have a legal right to – them. After the government’s SEN reforms in 2014, tribunal cases rose from 800 per year on average to around 1,600.

This is partly because of the extension of council liability for people with SEN being raised to the age of 25. However, raising the age at which councils are responsible whilst cutting local government funding by millions of pounds is clearly contradictory.

Cuts from central government mean that the bulk of SEN services are thrown into the lap of many Non-Governmental Organisations, charities, and the voluntary sector, such as the Independent Parental Services Eduction Advice (IPSEA), who are saying that they just cannot cope with the rising demand.

But many children in Leeds are not even having their Education, Health and Care Plans implemented at all. This means they cannot be placed in schools or colleges that meet their needs, and families will not know their child’s entitlement.

It is because they are in a constant state of limbo that many of my constituents have come to me to vent their frustration and ask for help.

Some families have even been forced to plead for crowd funding to pay for costly legal action, as they fight to get their child a proper education, something which is clearly unacceptable.

The state needs to step up, particularly in times of economic hardship, rather than shirking from its responsibilities and hiding behind some flawed notion of “balancing the books”.

It is a typical feature of the government’s policies of austerity that local authorities are not able to provide even the most basic of services, to which people are entitled, as they are having to prioritise one essential service over another. Forcing local councils into making these difficult choices is a brutal, backward way of dealing with economic instability.

Our education system is on the brink of crisis, with the United Nations warning that Britain is already violating the international rights of disabled people.

It’s hard enough for those with SEND to get school places in Leeds, but having to fight yet more battles to get the proper support once they have a place is extremely disheartening.

Announcing £400m extra funding for ‘little extras’ in schools is highly patronising and, frankly, a drop in the ocean compared to what is actually needed to solve this problem.

Children only get one chance at an education and we must nurture that opportunity as much as possible. We all need to do whatever possible where the government fails, so that we can work together and ensure early intervention and much-needed support for those with Special Education Needs and Disabilities.

Fabian Hamilton is the Labour MP for Leeds North East.