Leading UK children’s disability charity Newlife Foundation has welcomed Cannock Chase MP Aidan Burley’s Parliamentary support for its campaign to amend an outdated piece of “nonsensical legislation” which affects disabled teenagers throughout the UK.
Speaking in the House of Commons yesterday as he introduced a 10-minute Rule Motion, Mr Burley highlighted the plight of potentially thousands of disabled children who are currently denied access to the most appropriate wheelchairs due to existing weight and age restrictions.
Newlife – which is based in the MP’s Staffordshire constituency – has been at the forefront of a campaign for change.
Speaking in the House, Mr Burley paid tribute to Newlife for its nurse services, provision of more than £7million of essential disability equipment including wheelchairs and funding of groundbreaking medical research. He highlighted how charities like Newlife are restricted from providing the most advanced equipment by the 1988 Road Traffic Act and the belief that statutory providers such as primary care trusts use the law to avoid supplying the costly equipment, despite properly assessed needs.
He said: “Wheelchair providers – usually primary care trusts (PCTs) or local authorities – have found a loophole in current law to avoid having to fund high-specification powered wheelchairs to both adults and children who need them.
“PCTs are currently not balancing their books on the backs of the poor – but balancing them on the backs of the most disabled children, a situation I’m sure the whole House would find abhorrent in a country such as ours.”
Mr Burley seeks to change the Road Traffic Act 1988 to increase the weight limit for the biggest, Class Three, wheelchairs from 150kg to 200kg and remove the minimum age limit of 14.
Mr Burley commended the commitment of Newlife’s Interim Campaign Manager Sue Woodward, despite her being an opposition candidate when he gained the Cannock Chase seat.
There were no speakers against the proposal it and will have its second reading on Friday 27 April. Importantly Maria Miller, Minster for Disabled People, and Norman Baker, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport,were present to hear the proposal. Mr Burley acknowledged such bills rarely get on the statute books but he remains hopeful that the widespread support received will prompt ministers to act accordingly.
Newlife’s co-founder and CEO Sheila Brown OBE said: “Aidan spoke passionately, with intelligence and great common sense in this 10-Minute Rule Motion. In raising this issue he has strategically moved forward the fight to ensure disabled children are given the best chance of getting the right equipment. We are very grateful for his commitment and fortunate to have engaged his support in this important issue.”
Aidan Burley’s proposal comes hot on the heels of an amendment earlier this month which potentially opens up access to the most hi-tech Class Two wheelchairs to thousands of under-14s across the UK. The amendment came as a direct response to Newlife’s dedicated campaign for change to raise the weight limit of Class Two wheelchairs to 150gs to allow wider provision.
The amendment will enable more disabled children to experience greater independence, with wheelchairs that have a wider range of functions including sit-to-stand, tilt-in-space and posture support. The additional weight allowance will mean statutory providers, Newlife and other charities will now be able to supply this equipment.
MPs who supported the motion are: Anne Begg (Aberdeen South), Stephen Gilbert (St Austell and Newquay), Keith Vaz (Leicester East), Stephen Lloyd (Eastbourne), Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford), John Glen (Salisbury), Karen Bradley (Staffordshire Moorlands), Priti Patel (Withan), David Morris (Morecombe and Lunesdale), Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) and Robert Buckland (South Swindon).
Surrey five-year-old Logan Berry, who has cerebral palsy, is one of the first children in the country to benefit from the Government’s change to the law involving Class Two powered wheelchairs.
Logan’s parents had applied to Newlife for a powered wheelchair, not realising that its weight – 141kgs – would prevent the charity from supplying the equipment. Until the announcement earlier this month by Department of Transport Under Secretary Norman Baker, under-14s were not allowed wheelchairs weighing over 113kgs under the provisions of the Road Traffic Act 1988. The amendment will now allow provision up to 150kgs.
Logan’s cerebral palsy affects his arms as well as his legs so he is not able to self-propel a lightweight wheelchair. He currently uses a special needs buggy, which means he relies on other people to push him around.
Mum Nicole Newcomb, who lives in Camberley, Surrey, said: “Logan attends a mainstream school – Bagshot Infants – and a powered wheelchair will enable him to have a bit of independence, keep up with his classmates and join in more activities. It is very important to us, as parents, that he has the opportunity to play a full part in school life.”
The wheelchair Logan needs costs £15,069, which prompted his parents to turn to Newlife Foundation for help. His application – for a 141kg powered wheelchair, with high-low feature – was received just days before the change in law was announced. Charity staff had been preparing a letter informing the family that Newlife couldn’t provide the equipment, on legal grounds, but have instead been delighted to be able to say ‘Yes’.
Nicole said: “I had no idea that the law as it stood would have prevented Logan from having the wheelchair he needs, so we are really pleased to hear about the changes; it is such good news.”
Newlife CEO Sheila Brown, OBE, said: “We are particularly pleased to be able to say ‘Yes’ to this family’s application, knowing the huge change it will make to Logan’s daily life.”