Speech Responding To Manifesto Launch Of Children With Disabilities Strategic Alliance

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Thank you Monica for your kind words of welcome and thanks also to you Pauline for your detailed outline of the manifesto.

The Manifesto is particularly relevant to our work as Junior Ministers because it involves both children and children with disabilities.

Many of you will be aware that the First Minister and deputy First Minister last Thursday formally received the Report of the PSI Working Group on Disability at the City Hall and I know that a number of you were at that event.

The formal receipt of that report marked the culmination of work across a wide range of issues affecting people with disabilities and Ministers will now bring that report to the Executive so that Government can respond to it.  

One of the issues highlighted by that report is the fact that people with a disability are more likely to suffer disadvantage and families with disabled children consequently have a greater likelihood of experiencing poverty and disadvantage.

In responding to the PSI report Ministers will be seeking to address the difficulties that disabled children and their family’s experience.

There is a growing recognition also that a child’s formative years are crucial in shaping future prospects and in that respect addressing child poverty and disadvantage are major issues for us all.

All children and young people deserve an enjoyable childhood – no matter what constraints they face.  Our job is to help them do that by providing accessible opportunities and affordable facilities.

Our Executive has now agreed to extend the provisions contained within the UK Child Poverty Bill to Northern Ireland and this statutory footing will provide added impetus to work in this area.

We have established an Executive Sub Committee for Children and Young persons and it is pressing ahead with work on childcare and on how we measure poverty and disadvantage.

We have published the Play and Leisure Policy Statement which is set within the context of the 10-year strategy for children and young people.

This will contribute to the delivery of many of our strategic aims, particularly those which relate to improved health and achievement outcomes and it recognises the specific needs of vulnerable groups of children, including disabled children.

The policy statement also reflects our recognition of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

It will help us meet our obligations under a number of articles in the convention, particularly Article 31 which recognises the right of the child to rest and leisure and to engage in play and recreational activities.

We recognise that particularly vulnerable groups of children, such as those in poverty and those with disabilities, may need additional support to gain maximum benefit from play and leisure opportunities.

We will, therefore, ensure that the development of the implementation plan takes account of the needs of a range of vulnerable groups.

As I am sure everyone is aware the UK Government ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in June of this year.  

The purpose of the Convention is to promote, protect and ensure the rights of all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.

Article 7 of the Convention highlights the need to promote, protect and ensure the rights of children with disabilities; and to ensure that the best interests of the child are a primary consideration.  It also requires governments to ensure that children with disabilities have the right to express their views freely on all matters affecting them.

The launch of the Children with Disabilities Manifesto is an important statement about the needs, rights and expectations of disabled children and we recognise, acknowledge and support the aim of the manifesto: to

•    Promote the rights and interests of children and young people with a disability;
•    Raise awareness of the exclusion experienced by children and young people with disabilities in their daily lives; and
•    address the barriers they encounter.

Other departments are involved in this effort also and the Health Minister has provided some information on the work of his department.

DHSSPS is currently developing a Disability Strategy, which is expected to be issued for consultation in early 2010.

The strategy will adopt a life cycle approach to disability recognising that those with a disability can have changing needs throughout their lives and will cover all age groups, including children.

Over the three year Comprehensive Spending Review period, £9m extra funding has been made available to support children and young people with complex healthcare needs to live within their family setting.  
A Speech and Language Therapy Project Team has been set up to develop an Action Plan which will see a focus on pre-school interventions, and speech and language services for those children who attend mainstream schooling.  

Work relating to wheel chair provision, learning disability resettlement of people with learning disabilities, and family support services is proceeding also.

In the field of Education much is happening and DE is currently engaged in a consultation exercise reviewing the way forward for ‘Special Educational Needs’.

There is clearly much work to be done on tackle poverty and to consider the impact of poverty on disabled children and their families.

Next year, 2010, is the European Year of Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion and marks the 10th anniversary of the Lisbon treaty which highlighted the need to address disadvantage, inequality and poverty in our society.

EY 2010 is happening at a time of unprecedented and immediate economic challenges, but Governments across Europe, including here in Northern Ireland, must not waver in their commitments to a fairer, more prosperous future for all their citizens and in particular for our children.

The European Year affords an opportunity for constructive dialogue and debate – on the challenges faced both today and tomorrow for all individuals, groups and areas experiencing poverty and or social exclusion including children with disabilities.

2010 provides us with the opportunity to strengthen political and public commitment to social inclusion, both here in Northern Ireland, the UK and across the EU.  

We aim to underline both collective and individual responsibility in the battle against poverty and social exclusion by way of events such as today’s and those proposed to be held next year.

Through these events we have the chance to work with stakeholders and partners such as those present here today to transform our vision for the year into reality.

We in Northern Ireland will play our part in the overall UK programme for the Year which will have a three pronged approach to putting our broader objectives into practice.

Firstly, we want to raise awareness of the issue of poverty here in Northern Ireland to a wider public and events such as today’s does just that.  
We want to highlight the fact that the poverty that exists in Europe compromises people’s life chances and excludes them from aspects of society that others take for granted.

Secondly, we are promoting and encouraging the involvement of all those engaged in this arena, particularly those people who are experiencing poverty.  We want to work with them in developing and delivering solutions we need to tackle the issues that affect them directly.

Finally, we want there to be a lasting legacy from the year.  This will include identifying and sharing knowledge and good practice as well as developing successful structures to ensure a continued dialogue among the leading actors into the future.

In conclusion, the European Year of 2010 offers the chance to take stock of how far we have come since Lisbon and the prospect of challenging misconceptions and breaking down the stereotypes and myths attached to poverty and social exclusion.

It is a chance to raise public awareness of the causes, pervasiveness and effects of poverty.  It is an ideal time to tackle negative public perceptions of the socially excluded and the manifesto which CDSA is launching here today does exactly that.

As a lasting legacy 2010 is an opportunity to improve our understanding in wider society of the issues involved.

Thank you all again for the opportunity to meet with you today, to take receipt of and help launch your manifesto and indeed to thank you for your continued commitment to the social inclusion agenda.  I look forward to working with you in the future, especially during 2010 the European Year of Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion