80% of parents who have a child with a learning disability struggle to access support services during the school summer holidays, a survey from learning disability charity Mencap has shown.

Almost half of the parents surveyed said they struggle to access childcare during the summer months, with 56% struggling to access short breaks and respite services and 7% highlight lack of access to portage, a home visiting educational service for pre-school children with special educational needs and disabilities and their families.

A lack of access to childcare affects the majority of parents of a child with a learning disability with 93 per cent of parent carers say that finding childcare for disabled children more difficult than for nondisabled children [1].

Currently, parents of disadvantaged children aged 2 and of all 3 and 4 years old are eligible for 15 hours of free childcare a week [2]. Despite this, just 40 per cent of parents of children with a learning disability say their child is able to access the full amount [3]. In addition, just 21 per cent of local authorities reported having sufficient childcare for disabled children [4].

Mencap is calling on the Government and local authorities to establish a more flexible approach to childcare and short break services for families of children with a learning disability. 

Sharon Preece, whose 8-year-old son Sam has complex needs including a learning disability, said:

We have found there’s been a drastic drop in what’s available for families like ours in the summer holidays. Not only have services been cut back, the ones that are left have increased in cost. The play scheme Sam goes on has gone from being free to costing £70 a week this year. I had to give up work to look after Sam, so the cost of activities has a real impact on what we can afford to do.

It’s also difficult if you run into any problems because the local services are so stretched. Everyone goes on holiday and you’re very much left on your own. I’m concerned about what’s going to happen this summer. Sam is much calmer if we can keep him busy and in a structured environment, so a lack of services has a direct impact on him.

We’ve been on some great activities in the past that we would never have been able to afford if they hadn’t been subsidised. But if all that’s going to stop, then we will lose that that quality time that other families take for granted.

Jan Tregelles, chief executive of Mencap, said:

For many parents of children with a learning disability this means nonstop care, 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Having to care for their child who may have complex needs whilst juggling their work and other demands can push many families to breaking point.

Having accessible and suitable childcare on offer can be a lifeline for many families. But, due to a lack of sufficient provision from local authorities and inflexible provision of the services that are available, we are seeing many families are unable to access services and are often left to struggle alone.

It is unacceptable that, despite obligations, yet again local authorities are still not doing enough to help families who are being pushed into moments of crisis. This needs to change. We need to invest in these vital services and ensure equal access to them for children with a learning disability as they can be the difference between families reaching breaking point or not.


For further information, please contact the Mencap press office on 020 7696 5414 or media@mencap.org.uk.

Notes to editors

[1] Levelling the playing field: Equal access to childcare for disabled children PDF http://www.cafamily.org.uk/media/907126/levelling_the_playing_field_-_equal_access_to_childcare_for_disabled_children.pdf

[2] Recently passed government legislation also provides an additional 15 hours of free childcare for working parents of 3 and 4 year olds. Full roll out will begin in 2017, but a smaller number of early implementers and early innovators will trial new ways of delivering childcare, including making it more accessible for disabled children.

[3] Provision for children under five years of age in England: January 2014, Department for Education PDF http://www.cafamily.org.uk/media/907126/levelling_the_playing_field_-_equal_access_to_childcare_for_disabled_children.pdf

[4] Family and Childcare Trust (2014), Annual Cost Survey PDF http://www.cafamily.org.uk/media/907126/levelling_the_playing_field_-_equal_access_to_childcare_for_disabled_children.pdf

Survey questions and percentage of responses

Do you find it hard to access services and support during summertime for your son(s) or daughter(s) with a learning disability?

Total responses: 316

Yes: 80.1%

No: 19.9%

What services relating to your son(s) or daughter(s) learning disability do you find it hard to use during summertime?

Total responses who answered Yes to above question: 248

Childcare: 48.8%

Short breaks/respite services: 56.0%

Portage: 7.7%

Other: 20.2%

About Mencap

There are 1.4 million people with a learning disability in the UK. Mencap works to support people with a learning disability, their families and carers by fighting to change laws, improve services and access to education, employment and leisure facilities. Mencap supports thousands of people with a learning disability to live their lives the way they want.

Visit www.mencap.org.uk.

For advice and information about learning disability and Mencap services in your area, contact Mencap Direct on 0808 808 1111 (9am-5pm, Monday-Friday) or email help@mencap.org.uk

What is a learning disability?

A learning disability is a reduced intellectual ability which can cause problems with everyday tasks – for example shopping and cooking, or travelling to new places – which affects someone for their whole life.

People with a learning disability can take longer to learn new things and may need support to develop new skills, understand difficult information and engage with other people. The level of support someone needs is different with every individual. For example, someone with a severe learning disability might need much more support with daily tasks than someone with a mild learning disability.

Learning disability is NOT a mental illness or a learning difficulty. Very often the term ‘learning difficulty’ is wrongly used interchangeably with ‘learning disability’.