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Mean test for families with disabled children.

Byline: By CATHERINE JONES Western Mail

Will the Government please follow charity advice to look again at the provision of grants made to families of disabled children so they can adapt housing to meet their needs?

The current Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG) has been criticised by a charity coalition called Homes Fit for Children, which includes Mencap, Barnardos and the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign.

They show that the way the grant is being distributed is not meeting the needs of families on modest incomes who are then forced to find vast amounts of money to that their child can live at home.

Research reveals that one in three families who are assessed for a DFG cannot afford their contribution to making changes. It also shows that for so many families, the work can transform their lives.

The charity coalition - the Government says many of its criticisms will be tackled in a review of DFG policy which will be published early next year - would like to see several improvements.

Firstly, the means test should be abolished (following the lead of Northern Ireland). Secondly, the application process should be streamlined to reduce waiting time. And thirdly, an increase in the current limit which means some families have to pay more than pounds 50,000 - a clearly unacceptably large sum to many - towards the cost of adaptations.

Mencap's chief executive Jo Williams says, 'Many parents are being forced to make the choice between going into debt or not making the necessary changes to their home.

'We find this position totally unacceptable and call for the Government's review group to recommend the abolition of this crude means test.'

She says removal of the means test would make a huge difference to the quality of life for many families with disabled children.

Profiling just one family's situation shows the financial and emotional strain created by the means test - and its inability to take into account the real help its applicants need to provide a safe and accessible home, with room to play, for their children.

Angela Stewart-Paul lives in London with her two sons, aged nine and 11, both of whom have autism. The younger boy, Patrick, also has the most aggressive form of muscular dystrophy which means he will soon lose the ability to walk.

By the time Patrick is a teenager, he will be a full-time wheelchair user and need constant care.

At the moment, Angela, who is a head of department in a large school, has to carry her son upstairs. The family has been assessed as needing a ground-floor extension to provide a bedroom and bathroom with special equipment.

Angela has had to reduce her hours as a teacher so she can care for her sons and their father works part-time too in order to help care for the boys.

On a joint income of pounds 40,000, they have been told they will have to contribute a staggering pounds 70,000 towards the improvements, and they have been given no DFG.

The strain - and the feeling that everything has to be fought for - has been intense.

'Our joint income is modest and our outgoings are pretty crippling,' says Angela.

'All our energies should really be focused on our son but instead they are being diverted into battling with a system that doesn't seem to care.

'To be told that we are not entitled to any support is like a slap in the face. The DFG means test is ruining families' lives.'

The Government, however, currently maintains the means test is a way of giving help where it is most needed in an area of extremely high demand.

As for the speed of the application process, it claims that depends entirely on local authorities and says that some are more efficient than others.

In answer to this particular aspect it is about to publish a good practice guide called delivering Housing Adaptations for Disabled People so that local authorities are aware of their 'obligations'.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Nov 4, 2004
Words:662
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