Education leaders have clashed over the scrapping of a scheme in Nottinghamshire which provided subsidised childcare for the families of children with disabilities.
A decision was taken today to phase out the programme, known as Disabled Children’s Access to Childcare Home Based Packages (DCATCH).
The 46 affected families could have to pay an average of £4,300 per child per year to continue with childcare, a Nottinghamshire County Council report found.
The Conservative-led council said the scheme has effectively been superseded by other, national schemes which have become available since DCATCH was introduced.
But the Labour Party in Nottinghamshire argued the cuts were ‘callous’ and formed a pattern of the council targeting the most vulnerable people in society with its cuts.
The council considered scrapping the scheme entirely from March this year, but instead opted for a phased withdrawal.
It means new applicants cannot apply, while parents already on the scheme will see the amount they have to pay rise from £3.50 to £7.50 from April 2020.
The scheme will then be scrapped entirely in April 2021.
At a meeting on February 11, Labour proposed a more gradual phase out of the scheme, by extending it to 2023 and only increase the charge by 50 pence per hour per year.
But this was rejected by the Conservatives councillors.
Councillor John Peck, Labour’s education spokesman who represents Sherwood Forest on the council, said: “This is a callous and unnecessary move against a small number of families with disabled children.
“It’s what we expect from your party. Your administration recently pushed through proposals forcing some of our most vulnerable adults to pay more for their care packages, in particular, those between 18 and 25.
“So this seems to fit in with a policy strategy of targeting vulnerable groups of people.
“In your statement to the press last week, you stated we were just chasing cheap headlines by taking this view, but frankly I find this a bit rich from someone who plays to the gallery every time he speaks, but actually I consider it a cheap remark.
“We are the opposition party, and if we don’t question your actions and speak up for these families then who will?
“You will just continue picking off easy targets unless we stand up for these people. In the end, it comes down to having different values. We have different priorities and we make different choices.”
Councillor Philip Owen, head of the committee which took the decision today, accused Labour councillors of ‘emotional claptrap’.
The councillor, who represents Nuthall and Kimberley , said: “We are not targeting vulnerable groups in the way you suggest, this was initially a trial for several years, which it was thought might encourage the uptake of childcare.
“A trial is exactly that, you trial something to see if it works, and what was found was that there was no increase in uptake, the trial failed if you like, so the Government pulled the funding after the trial period when it was demonstrated that it didn’t work.
“The situation has moved on because now parents are able to access the funding through a variety of different benefits so what’s the point in us spending county council money – which is in short supply – on something that is being paid for through Government funding.
“We accept that to do a sudden change could cause problems, so that’s why we have a phased approach so parents can make the necessary arrangements.”