I am writing to the Prime Minister to challenge her to meet with me to answer twelve pressing questions on the Conservatives' dreadful plans for social care.
You can read a my letter below.
Norman Lamb is demanding faster help for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) who require a higher level of support, after it was revealed that Norfolk is one of the five worst performing local authorities at issuing Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans for those people.
An EHC plan is for children and young people aged up to 25 who need more support than is available through special educational needs support. EHC plans identify educational, health and social needs and set out the additional support to meet those needs. The national code of practice states that the local authority must issue a final EHC plan no more than 20 weeks after a needs assessment is requested.
However, new statistics published this week by the Department for Education reveal that Norfolk is the fifth worst performing local authority at issuing EHC plans within the 20 week time limit. In 2016, just 5.6% of new EHC plans were issued within 20 weeks, down from 10.5% in 2015.
That is dramatically below the average for the East of England, where 50.8% of new EHC plans were issued within the time limit last year. In England as a whole, 58.6% of new EHC plans made during 2016 were issued within the time limit, a slight decrease from 59.2% in 2015.
The worst performing local authority was Hartlepool, where 0% of new EHC plans were issued within the time limit (excluding cases where exceptions were made), followed by Dorset (1.9%), Hampshire (4.5%) and Walsall (5.3%).
National regulations allow for exceptions to the time limits in certain cases. Including cases where these exceptions applied, 5.8% of new EHC plans were issued within 20 weeks in Norfolk during 2016. This compared to 49.3% in the East of England and 55.7% in England as a whole.
Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat candidate for North Norfolk, is writing to Norfolk County Council to ask what steps are being put in place to speed up the process of issuing EHC plans. Commenting, he said:
“These are really shocking figures which demand urgent improvement. We are letting families and children down by failing to give vital support quickly enough.
“Young people with SEND who require higher levels of support in Norfolk are not getting it as quickly as people in the rest of the country, or even the rest of East Anglia. Perhaps the most alarming thing is that the situation seems to be getting worse rather than better. There is a real injustice here. Norfolk County Council must set out a clear strategy to reverse this decline and bring Norfolk’s performance up to the national average, at the very least.”
The Department for Education’s statistics on SEN and EHC plans for England (2017) can be accessed here. The statistics referred to above are contained in Table 8 in the Excel spreadsheet.
Norman Lamb has issued a challenge to the Prime Minister to meet with him to debate the Conservatives' plans for social care, ahead of her planned visit to North Norfolk before the General Election.
Speaking on the Victoria Derbyshire programme, he challenged Mrs May to defend the proposed Dementia Tax which would force homeowners to pay tens of thousands of pounds more for home care.
It comes as research by the Liberal Democrats revealed that 95% of homes in North Norfolk could be eligible for sale to meet the Dementia Tax.
Norman Lamb has urged residents, irrespective of their party affiliation, to join a campaign to stop the Conservatives' social care plans which could saddle those with long-term illnesses with crippling care costs after their death. He is also calling for a £72,000 cap on the costs of care, which he introduced as a minister in the Coalition Government but was left out of the Conservative manifesto when it was launched last week. Despite her apparent u-turn this week, the Prime Minister has only committed to consulting on plans for a cap.
Liberal Democrat candidate Norman Lamb said:
"We expect Theresa May to visit North Norfolk soon and I think she owes it to those who are very worried about this policy to explain. Caring for our elderly should be above party politics and that is why I want to urge anyone who opposes these plans to come together to stop this dreadful policy.
“Every elderly person who needs care should receive it in the best place for them. People shouldn't have to worry about losing everything they've worked hard for to pay for crippling care costs.
“As Care Minister, I pushed through a new law to introduce a cap on the costs people would have to pay for social care in old age. After abandoning this in the Conservative Manifesto, Theresa May today made a cynical attempt to save face by giving a vague commitment to consult on a cap after the election. Why doesn’t she get on and implement the cap that I introduced, which her party also committed to in 2015?
"If she genuinely believes that her proposals for social care are fair to elderly people, and those who have the misfortune to be diagnosed with conditions like dementia, then she should be brave enough to meet with me to make her case."
Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat candidate for North Norfolk, is backing a campaign to keep counselling training courses running at the University of East Anglia.
In April, the University announced plans to close its ‘Counselling Centre’ from September 2017. As well as providing training courses, the Centre enjoys an international reputation for its research into the effectiveness of counselling therapies.
There are concerns that the closure will have a detrimental impact on the number of trained counsellors working in Norfolk. Opponents also say that the closure will affect provision of mental health support for students at UEA, as counselling students currently provide free counselling services for those living on campus.
Mental health champion Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat candidate for North Norfolk, is calling on the University to reconsider the plans and keep the counselling centre running. He has written to the Vice-Chancellor, David Richardson, as well as signing an online petition that has attracted almost 1,000 signatures.
Commenting, Norman Lamb said:
“These are challenging times for universities, but I would strongly urge UEA to think again about withdrawing its prestigious training course.
“Two-thirds of Britons have experienced mental health problems, so the need for highly-skilled counsellors has never been greater. We know that counselling is highly effective in supporting recovery and preventing people from reaching crisis point. It would be a major blow for mental health provision in East Anglia and across the UK if this closure went ahead, and also for the University given the prestige of its counselling programme.
“I am also worried about the potential impact on UEA students. More students are experiencing mental ill health, but many do not receive the help they need. If less support is available, there will obviously be a knock-on effect to the NHS, as well as the increased risk of lives ruined by mental health problems if the early intervention isn’t there.”
Over the last few years, I’ve been working with the council and local residents to secure extra Government funding to protect our coastal communities here in North Norfolk.
I’ve met with ministers to discuss vital coast defence work at the Bacton Gas Terminal, and to ensure that neighbouring villages like Bacton, Walcott and Happisburgh also benefit from improved sea defences.
We’ve made some good progress, but there is still a funding gap of around £2 million for the project which is putting these communities at unacceptable risk of flooding.
After the election, I want to keep fighting in Norfolk and in Parliament – challenging ministers to make sure this work is completed so that we have proper protection for these villages.
The Liberal Democrats have also pledged a £2bn flood prevention fund, which would allow the funding gap to be met for the scheme.
So vote to re-elect me on 8th June, to keep a strong voice for our North Norfolk coastal villages in Parliament.
The Liberal Democrats are committed to ending the historic injustice against people with mental ill health.
Two out of every three Britons say they've experienced mental health problems, but too many don't get the help they need. That is why I am proud to announce that the Liberal Democrats are pledging an extra £1bn to ensure everyone has access to effective treatment and support.
This will help us to address our 12 key priorities for supporting people with mental ill health, learning disabilities and autism. We will introduce comprehensive access and waiting time standards for mental health care in the NHS. We will end the scandal of people with mental ill health being shunted across the country because there is no support available close to home. We will tackle the growing crisis in children and young people's mental health by helping schools to promote good mental wellbeing. And we will prioritise national action to dramatically reduce the number of suicides.
All of these priorities build on our record of action - both in government and in opposition.
Neither Labour nor the Conservatives have a clear plan for delivering better mental health services. We’ve made it clear that our priorities will be funded from our ambitious plan to inject £6bn a year into the NHS and care with an additional penny on income tax.
You can read our full plan here. It's time to end the historic injustice faced by people with mental ill health, learning disabilities and autism.
Read more about our plans in The Mirror and The Independent
Norman Lamb has announced that the Liberal Democrats would invest £45m more in schools and colleges in Norfolk over the next Parliament.
This funding would reverse cuts to school and college budgets imposed by the Conservative Government, protect per pupil funding in real terms, and ensure that no school loses out from changes to funding arrangements.
More than £5m would be spent locally on the Pupil Premium, which the Liberal Democrats introduced in government to help the most disadvantaged children.
The funding is part of the Liberal Democrats’ national commitment to spend an extra £7bn on schools and colleges. It comes after a report by the National Audit Office found that school budgets will be slashed by £3bn in real terms by 2019-20 under current government plans – the equivalent to reducing spending by 8 per cent per pupil.
Norman Lamb recently conducted a survey of North Norfolk schools on their current funding situation, which found that many schools have serious concerns about the impact of the Tory Government's changes to school funding. Many schools said that they will be forced to cut teaching staff and increase class sizes to cope with cuts to their budgets.
Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat candidate for North Norfolk, said:
“Under the Conservatives, funding per pupil is set to see the biggest cuts in a generation. Children in Norfolk are being taught in overcrowded classes by overworked teachers - and this situation looks set to get worse.
“My recent survey has shown that many schools in North Norfolk have serious concerns about the impact of the Tory Government’s changes to their funding. Several schools are being forced to make teachers and support staff redundant, and potentially increase class sizes which would have a damaging impact on children’s education. How can we possibly justify this?
"That is why I am announcing an extra £45m of funding for Norfolk, which would ensure that no school and no child loses out. We will reverse the damaging Conservative cuts to school and college budgets, and invest to ensure every child has the opportunity to succeed."
“A landslide for the Conservatives would allow Theresa May to cut our schools to the bone. If I am re-elected to Parliament, I will continue to provide the strong voice that Norfolk’s schools need.”
Norman Lamb spoke in Parliament today about his concerns over the soaring number of children who are being permanently excluded from schools in Norfolk. After raising the issue at Education Questions, the Minister for Vulnerable Children and Families, Edward Timpson, agreed to meet with Norman to discuss potential solutions to the problem.
Norfolk has one of the highest rates of permanent exclusions in the country, and the highest in the East of England. The number of pupils receiving a permanent exclusion has risen dramatically in recent years, with 296 pupils excluded in 2015/16 compared to just 170 in 2013/14.
A lengthy waiting list for places at the Short Stay School for Norfolk (SSSfN) has left children stuck at home for weeks, sometimes months, before they are able to get back to their education. As of 14th March, there were 96 children on the SSSfN waiting list, with children having to rely on inadequate alternatives such as e-courses in the meantime. While some excluded children are able to receive home tutoring, availability is limited and provision is often restricted to a couple of hours per week.
At Education Questions in the House of Commons, Norman challenged the Government on the adequacy of support for excluded children and asked the Education Minister what message he would send to Norfolk County Council to fix the unacceptable situation.
In response, Edward Timpson acknowledged that outcomes for excluded children in receipt of alternative education provision are “not good enough” and that exclusion "should always be a last resort.” He offered to discuss the matter with Norman during a forthcoming meeting.
Here are Norman's questions - and the full responses from the Minister:
Norman Lamb: What assessment has the Minister made of the adequacy of support provided to children excluded from school?
Edward Timpson: There are duties to ensure that children excluded from school have education in place; and although there are some excellent examples of alternative provision across the country, overall outcomes for children remaining in AP are not good enough. That is why our ambition to make schools responsible for commissioning AP and remaining accountable for the outcomes of those pupils, including circumstances where a pupil has been excluded, are so important
Norman Lamb: Does the Minister share my horror at the dramatic rise in the number of permanent exclusions in Norfolk – 296 in the last academic year, with 100 students at the last count waiting for a place at the short stay school? Given the awful outcomes for children who are permanently excluded, what message does he send to Norfolk to sort out this unacceptable situation?
Edward Timpson: Exclusion should always be a last resort and we need to make sure there are no inappropriate exclusions, either in Norfolk or anywhere in the country. I am meeting the honourable gentleman on another matter, and perhaps that is something we can discuss further in relation to this particular problem.
Commenting after raising the issue at Education Questions, Norman said:
“The dramatic rise in the number of excluded children in Norfolk is incredibly worrying, and I welcomed the Minister’s statement that exclusion should only ever be used as a last resort. Regrettably, however, this too often appears not to be the case in Norfolk.
“It is a failure of the system which is letting down some of our most vulnerable young people, particularly those with social, emotional or mental health needs. Students who display challenging behaviour should be given extra support, but instead they are frequently excluded by schools who don’t have the means or the know-how.
“Excluded children too often end up with wasted life chances, poor mental health, poor educational attainment and worklessness – and it costs the state a fortune. We have to do better. The Council must get on top of this scandalous situation and guarantee that every child gets the high-quality education they deserve.”