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Budget report criticised for 'offensive' wording about disabled children 'living longer'

  • Increase in education, health and care means means there has been budget overspend 
  • Schools grant forecasts an overspend of over £3m 
  • Children with disabilities were referred to as ‘surviving longer’

A Salford City Council budget report may have to be rewritten after being criticised for how it referred to children with disabilities.

The report was condemned as ‘crude’ after a children’s scrutiny panel meeting heard how the schools budget for next year has a projected overspend of £3m.

budget report
The year-end forecast for centrally held Dedicated Schools Grant budgets

The reason for the overspend is the rising number of children with education, health and care plans, as well as an increased diagnosis of certain conditions.

The report states: “Advances in medicine which mean that children born prematurely or with disabilities survive and live longer than before.”

Councillor Lewis Eric Nelson said: “I just think it’s really crude. I’m quite unhappy and uncomfortable with the way some of those sentences are written.

“I think talking about children with disabilities living longer and talking about their life as surviving, I think it’s crude and will probably be offensive to a lot of the families with children with disabilities.

“I’ve read that and, you know, some of it is a matter of fact and I think some of it is more crude than it ought to be, and in ways that’s not as delicate as the subject demands, really.”

Councillor Lewis Eric Nelson
Councillor Lewis Eric Nelson Condemned the report as 'crude'

Councillor Nelson pointed out that in previous years special needs plans were not always given to children entitled to them.

Judith Charles, a Salford resident whose son has Down syndrome and autism, said: “I think it’s rather insensitive. They do much more than just survive, and also it makes it sound like a bad thing, that children born prematurely or with disabilities survive a bit longer than before.

"Which isn’t the case, it’s a good thing.

“It’s implying that children with disabilities shouldn’t have the same life expectancy as children without disabilities, and why shouldn’t they?”

The primary school teacher expressed frustration with the way the report cited ‘increased parental expectations about the support their child should receive’ as another reason for the overspend.

“That annoys me quite a lot, because parents of children with special needs should have exactly the same expectations about the support their child should receive," she said.

“And what is good enough for every other child is good enough for a child with disabilities, and it shouldn’t be any lower expectations, we should have as much or higher expectations because the children do need more support.”

Rick Burgess, of the Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, said: "I think it is not as worded sensitively as it could be but it is not being offensive per se. 

"The council is doing right by spending based on need. Definitely some positive work going on in Salford."

Chris Mee, strategic finance manager, assured the panel that the issue would be addressed.

Councillor Adrian Brocklehurst, chair of the children’s scrutiny panel, agreed: “If we want to talk about some of the wording in more detail we can do outside of the meeting.”

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