20 Jan 2011

PM sympathises with mum denied more help for disabled child

David Cameron says he has “every sympathy” with the mother of a disabled girl refused extra support, who asked social services to put her into care. But he denies that government cuts are to blame.

Yesterday, the plight of desperate Riven Vincent, whose six-year-old daughter Celyn is blind and suffers from severe quadriplegic cerebral palsy and epilepsy, was catapulted into the media spotlight after she posted a message on the popular Mumsnet forum, in which she said: “Have asked social services to take dear daughter into care…They have refused extra respite. I can’t cope.”

Channel 4 News later discovered an even more worrying post, in which Mrs Vincent wrote: “I am hysterical. I want to die.”

Justine Roberts, co-founder and CEO of Mumsnet said she has spoken to Mrs Vincent today, and told Channel 4 News: “She’s fine – it was a very emotional time yesterday, obviously. But OK today.”

Mother refused extra social care: 'I want to die'

Mrs Vincent, who has three other children, cares full-time for her daughter but feels that she can no longer manage with six hours of respite care per week.

She then approached South Gloucestershire social services asking for more hours, but her request was turned down yesterday.

Mr Cameron visited the family’s Bristol home in March last year, just before the General Election, and promised Mrs Vincent to write to the her local primary care trust to ask that incontinence nappies should be distributed according to need, and not rationed to four a day.

This afternoon, Mr Cameron, whose severely disabled son Ivan died aged 6 in 2009, wrote to Mrs Vincent after she accused him of going back on a pre-election promise he had made to her.

“I had hoped that, after David Cameron came to visit me earlier this year following our exchange on Mumsnet, he would have done more to protect families like ours. Riven Vincent

Mr Cameron told a news conference he had “every sympathy” with the family.

He said he would look “very closely” into the circumstances of the case, and said that South Gloucestershire Council had already been in touch with the family to see if more could be done to help keep Celyn at home.

“I hope this is possible,” he added. “As Prime Minister, one of the things I am very keen to do is help families in this position and that is why, in a time of austerity and difficulty, we have put hundreds of millions of pounds more into respite care and into helping families who are looking after disabled children.”

He denied that there was any connection between the Coalition’s cuts programme and Celyn’s case or that the sitution would be better if funding was ring-fenced.

“I don’t believe there is a relationship between the cuts that are inevitably taking place nationally in some public services and this individual case.

“South Gloucestershire Council have been very, very clear about that. They are looking at this case on the basis of need.”

In a statement today, Mrs Vincent, who herself suffers from cystic fibrosis, criticised Mr Cameron for failing to improve the plight of carers.

“No one government is to blame,” she said. “But I had hoped that, after David Cameron came to visit me earlier this year following our exchange on Mumsnet, he would have done more to protect families like ours.

“The money the Government has allocated for short breaks and respite care – £800 million over four years – is not enough, and, worse still, it’s not going to be ring-fenced. So there’s nothing to stop cash-strapped local authorities from using the money elsewhere.”

Last year, Fact Check looked into the announcement that £800 million would be allocated over four years for short breaks and respite care, and predicted it would lead to swingeing cuts in social care. Read the full report here.

She told the Guardian newspaper last night: “It will be devastating for me as a mother. I want her here, with her family,” she said.

“I never imagined I would get to this point. I don’t want her in a residential care home – it would destroy me. But without extra help, I find it hard to see how we can meet her needs at home.”

A spokesman for Scope, the UK’s leading cerebral palsy charity, said “This is obviously very concerning. We are asking that the Government do not make decisions on respite care in isolation and rather looks at the bigger, longer term picture. If Mrs Vincent’s child is taken into care, it would cost the Government a lot more than it would to provide extra respite hours.”

In the Guardian article, Mrs Vincent said that it would cost the local authority between £2,000 and £3,000 a week to look after Celyn in a home, compared to £15 a hour for a carer to help at their own home.