The issue of scant specialist childcare provision stops parents working. "I’ve known solicitors who say, I can’t go to work." - This is what a parent commented collecting her child from 'playwell', a unique afterschool club based in Birmingham in Britain’s West Midlands - and at the centre of my constituency.
Playwell provides customised care for children with complex and severe needs and prioritises their needs over 'mainstream' children. No child is turned away on the basis of disability, thereby enabling their parents and carers to work.
Without playwell’s services, the parents and carers of children with complex disabilities are denied access to the employment market. 81 per cent of out of work parents in a recent survey conducted by the charity working families 'agreed or strongly agreed' that finding suitable childcare for their disabled child is a major barrier to pursuing a career.
Two thirds of parents of disabled children have refrained from seeking promotion, declined promotion or accepted a demotion in order to be able to balance their work and caring responsibilities. There is a hidden and immensely talented workforce out there - the parents and carers of disabled children who need and want to work.
The absence of specific legislative provision for afterschool facilities for children with complex needs is deeply disappointing and has wide ranging ramifications for the social and economic fabric of the EU. In Birmingham, some 42,000 children are affected.
"There is a hidden and immensely talented workforce out there - the parents and carers of disabled children who need and want to work"
In the UK, 700,000 children and across the EU 15 million children and their families potentially have their options restricted through no enforceable entitlement to customised childcare. This is why I have launched a written declaration, in order to raise these concerns with the European commission and the council.
I want to ensure that customised childcare for children with complex needs is integral to the Europe 2020 strategy, and can facilitate the delivery of smart, sustainable economic growth.
Without specialist provision, parents are effectively barred from employment. In July 2014, the council’s recommendations on the implementation of Europe 2020 in the UK noted skill shortages and the need to increase parental employment by increasing access to high quality affordable childcare.
A sombre, discriminatory shadow excludes parents of disabled children from availing of employment opportunities. Arguably, such exclusion contravenes the Lisbon treaty which obliges the EU to combat disability based on discrimination.
In January, the Latvian presidency set out its commitment to inclusive and sustainable labour market participation, with increased attention being focused on job quality and long term unemployment, and it would also highlight the situation of persons with disabilities. I firmly believe that the situation of people with disabilities needs to be more widely understood.
The fundamental issue is simple - should parents of children with severe disabilities and the children themselves have access to the employment market and afterschool care, which is equal to that afforded to other families? Should the EU provide a level playing field for all families? If your answer is 'yes', please support my written declaration and help open the door to equal opportunities for disabled children and their families. It can be signed at the parliament in Brussels and Strasbourg from 9 March.