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Bristol celebrates change for disabled children

Press release issued: 27 October 2005

Research by a team from the School for Policy Studies and Bristol City Council has led to an announcement in Parliament that will dramatically improve the lives of seriously disabled children and their families.

Research by a team from Bristol University's School for Policy Studies and Bristol City Council has led to an announcement in Parliament today [Thursday 27 October] that will dramatically improve the lives of seriously disabled children and their families.

From next December, families in England needing to adapt their homes to care for a disabled child will no longer be subject to means testing.  Prior to this change, families on average incomes were faced with contributions so high that the choice was to go heavily into debt or to continue with totally unsuitable housing that harmed the life chances of the whole family.

The Government's decision makes it easier for families to apply for a Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG) to get funding for help to provide access ramps, stairlifts, level access showers and home extensions.

The change, which ensures families are entitled to apply for the maximum grant available without having to go through a means test, will mean they can now apply for up to £25,000 for disability improvements to their home.

Housing Minister Baroness Andrews announced the publication of the Bristol research 'Reviewing the Disabled Facilities Grant' in the House of Lords and said that the particular recommendation in regard to disabled children would be implemented without further consultation. 

In an interview on Radio 4's  'You and Yours', she went on to say that extra funding was being made available to cover the cost of the increase and that none of the other recommendations in the Bristol report (which included raising the limit from £25,000 to £50,000) would be ruled out.

A team of Bristol City Council officers and researchers from the School for Policy Studies conducted the year-long research for a review commissioned by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister in conjunction with the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Skills.

The research was wide-ranging, covering all aspects of funding and implementing the housing grants policy for disabled people, but there was particular focus on the effect of the means test on children and their families.

A team of paediatric health professionals from Bristol were amongst those who gave evidence to the researchers about the human suffering and the financial costs to the NHS that resulted from a lack of suitable housing for families with disabled children.

Frances Heywood from the School for Policy Studies, who co-ordinated the joint Bristol team, said: "This is really wonderful news. It is not often that policy researchers are lucky enough to see a direct change in Government policy as a result of their work.  Many people have worked for a long time to bring about this change, and England owes a great debt to those in Northern Ireland and Wales who led the way."

Lord Richard Best, Director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation which funded much early research on this topic by the University of Bristol researchers, said: "This is excellent news, not just for the families concerned but for society as a whole.  By removing a crucial barrier to families resolving their housing difficulties, the government has opened up the prospect of improving disabled children's life-chances not just today, but throughout their lives.  This will have positive knock-on effects for years to come."

The means test for disabled children was abolished in Northern Ireland from 16 February 2004; and in Wales from 30 September 2005; the Government has stated it will be December in England.  An additional £12m will be allocated to cover the costs, out of an additional £17m total for DFG over the next two years.

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