Earlier this year, the government launched a new £30 million Respite Innovation Fund. In this blog, our campaign manager, Stephen Kingdom, reflects on the announcement and what it means now and in the future.
In the autumn, working with Scope, we published new economic analysis which revealed that the annual shortfall in funding for health and social care for disabled children and their families had grown – even before the pandemic – to a massive £2.1 billion. Compared with that, £30 million over three years, sounds like the proverbial ‘drop in the ocean’. So why have we been so keen to celebrate this as a campaign win?
I would put forward three key reasons –
Firstly, £30 million is still a lot of money; and whilst it will not meet all the needs of disabled children and their families, it will result in more breaks for more children and families. The government says it will pay for 10,000 additional short breaks – far from enough to give every family the support they need, but still a lifeline for those who receive them.
Secondly, it shows that the government has recognised that more needs to be done to support disabled children and their families. This is the first time there has been dedicated central government funding for short breaks for more than a decade. The desperate need for more short breaks has been a key focus of our campaigning since the Disabled Children’s Partnership launched in 2017, so it is great that the government has finally committed specific money to this. And a massive thank you to all the parents and other members of the public who have campaigned with us – without you, we could not have achieved this.
And finally, for the longer term – and perhaps most importantly – there is the focus on innovation. The third of our ‘Three Pillars’ – our calls to government to fix the support system for disabled children – asks for both the funding gap to be filled and the creation of a disabled children’s innovation fund, so the new funding goes at least some way to delivering this.
By focusing on innovation, the new fund should help identify best practice and support joint working between agencies and – crucially – co-production with parents. And it should provide new evidence of what works and why investing in short breaks works – including the economic case for early intervention. Making the case for large increases in funding for a specific public service is never easy and it has felt harder than ever in recent years, with no sign of that changing. But if the Respite Innovation Fund is well managed and properly evaluated, it will help provide evidence to make the case at both local and national level to increase funding for short breaks.
The first allocations from the Respite Innovation Fund will be made shortly. We will be watching carefully to see what projects come forward and are supported – and how the lessons from them are used to spread best practice and strengthen the case for more investment and more support in the future.