MP John Hayes is backing parents in their fight to save specialist clubs for disabled children from being axed in county council cutbacks.
Profoundly disabled youngsters who attend Garth School in Spalding, Gosberton House School and Willoughby School in Bourne are among county pupils who will have no proper social life if they lose their after-school, youth and holiday clubs.
We have a duty to protect and support people who are disadvantaged by disability and I will make the strongest possible representations to the county council about this.John Hayes MP
The South Holland and The Deepings MP, a long-time champion of disabled people, said: “I think it’s outrageous. I am more than happy to make the parents’ case to the county council.
“I think it’s extraordinary that they are cutting these facilities for disabled children. I have been passionate about people with disabilities – and protecting the interests of people with disabilities – all of my life.”
Mum Sarah-Jane Russell welcomed the MP’s support and was delighted to get a letter from Mr Hayes.
She said: “I think it’s fab because half of me expected it to come from his PA. I was really pleased that he had actually written it and taken the time to sign it himself and he’s even written a little note on the bottom saying that we have his full support.”
Sarah-Jane’s nine-year-old son, Levi, has a long list of disabilities – including autism – and the clubs mean the world to him.
His mum says the county council has now offered to talk to her about proposals that could see the loss of clubs run by Action for Children, which has specialist trained staff, but wants to attend with other parents.
“If I went on my own, I would be like a chicken in a fox coop,” she said.
The parents’ online petition to save the clubs has more than 1,300 signatures and Sarah-Jane has collected 200 herself.
Earlier this month, Lincolnshire County Council’s children’s services manager, Andrew McLean, urged people to take part in a consultation.
But when this newspaper asked how parents could take part, a press officer said: “Consultation has now finished.”
Those mixed messages have infuriated Mr Hayes – and he’s also angry that he wasn’t consulted as the elected parliamentary representative of the constituents here.
Mr Hayes said: “I have never been consulted. I represent the local people and I wasn’t written to by the county council inviting my views. I would have given my views – very clearly the youngsters concerned and their parents should be put first.
“We have a duty to protect and support people who are disadvantaged by disability and I will make the strongest possible representations to the county council about this.”
Some years ago, Mr Hayes was at the forefront of the successful battle to save Garth School from the axe and his deeply held convictions about the need to support disabled people and their families saw him co-chair a parliamentary committee alongside a legendary disabled issues campaigner, veteran Labour MP Jack Ashley who became Lord Ashley.
Children who will be hit by the cuts have conditions like autism and cerebral palsy – some are in wheelchairs and some are unable to speak.
Parents fear the council is trying to push their disabled children into mainstream clubs, where they simply wouldn’t fit because of their severe disabilities and complex behaviours.
• The council contract with Action for Children was due to end on March 31, but it’s been extended to September 30.