Monday, 3 December 2007

Has WAG plundered £21m fund?

Full Story:
MILLIONS of pounds aimed at improving the lives of disabled children in Wales may never reach its intended target, it was claimed yesterday. It is feared the Pfund21m Wales share of a Pfund340m UK government package for disabled children has been swallowed up by the general health, social services and education budgets, already struggling under the strain of a tight financial settlement. Childrens charities and a Labour AM have warned that without such investment disabled childrens lives will be blighted by a lack of opportunities. Claims that the money has not been specifically identified in the Budget come as councils predicted rises in council tax bills next year to compensate for a poor budget allocation. It also follows accusations from leading academics and clinicians that health research in Wales is being compromised by a Pfund1m cut in funding. Lynne Neagle, AM for Torfaen, has tabled a statement of opinion about the money, over which she claims to have encountered a wall of silence. She said, Ive been an Assembly Member for eight years. I know how devolution works. But I tell you this, it is a matter of fact that disabled children in Wales get the roughest of rough deals and we have been allocated Pfund21m that could turn around many of these young lives. If we choose to spend the money elsewhere we should be pilloried as an Assembly. Devolution is about delivering on Welsh priorities show me a bigger priority than this. Wayne Crocker, from Mencap Cymru, said, Without real money to help them do this they will continue to be left at the bottom of the box and live lives limited by the type of poor opportunities given to them in todays Wales. Economic Secretary Ed Balls and Education Minister Lord Adonis announced a Pfund340m package and the Aiming High for Disabled Children: Better Support for Families report in May, to support disabled children and their families. In England this money will be used to fund short breaks for disabled children, provide childcare and support, and help disabled children shape the services they need. At the time Mr Balls said these actions would make a real difference to all disabled children and their families, with Pfund340m over the next three years to improve vital services that will enhance their lives, underpinned by reform to make disabled children a national priority. This Governments long-term goal is to transform the chances of disabled children and their families. The equivalent funding for Wales, known as a consequential, amounts to Pfund21m. But the money is not ring-fenced and the Assembly Government is under no obligation to spend the money in the same area as England in this case, on disabled children. Yet Wales has some of the highest levels of disability among children. An Office for National Statistics report said the prevalence of mild disability is 20% of the population in Wales, while the rate of severe disability in children under 16 is 10 in every 10,000. Ms Neagle added, In Wales we have encountered a wall of silence when asking about how the consequential will be spent. Keith Bowen, from the Disabled Children Matter Wales (DCMW) campaign, said, Disabled children and young people in Wales have been left out for too long. Services are failing disabled children. Our many supporters across Wales are calling for the Welsh Assembly Government to make good on their commitments and make disabled children a priority over the next three years, by providing clear leadership backed with significant additional resources.

No comments: