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Families take government to court over ‘genuine crisis’ in special needs funding | UK News

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Parents of children with special needs are challenging the government over education funding in England in a landmark legal fight.

The High Court has heard a “genuine crisis” in support for young people with special educational needs and disabilities (Send) could “blight their lives forever”.

Lawyers representing three families – from East Sussex, the West Midlands and North Yorkshire – are bringing a case against Chancellor Philip Hammond and Education Secretary Damian Hinds.

Philip Hammond's Mansion Speech was almost certainly likely his last such speech
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Three families are bringing a case against Chancellor Philip Hammond

Jenni Richards QC argued that Mr Hammond acted unlawfully when setting the national budget in October 2018, and that Mr Hinds did so when making available additional, but “manifestly insufficient”, Send funding in December 2018.

She told the court on Wednesday that the “direct result” of a lack of funding meant that “children with Send are not being properly educated” – which was “seriously limiting the scope for them living independent lives as adults”.

Ms Richards added: “The critical under-funding means that the most vulnerable children may not even receive the basic educational provision they require.”

Acting through their mothers, the case is being brought by three children – on behalf of young people who rely on Send funding.

The trio are Nico Heugh Simone, 15, from Robertsbridge, Dakota Riddell, 9, from Birmingham, and 14-year-old Benedict McFinnigan, from Scarborough.

Lorraine Heugh Simone and her son Nico, 15, who has autism and anxiety
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Lorraine Heugh Simone and her son Nico, 15, who has autism and anxiety

During Ms Richards’s opening remarks, Mr Justice Lewis – who is hearing the case – said: “Their mothers are doing an amazing job, quite frankly, when you read what they are doing on a day-to-day basis.”

Ms Richards claimed Department for Education statistics showed a “rising demand” for Send funding, which had “not been matched by anything like a commensurate increase in funding”.

Government lawyers said the increase in demand was recognised by the ministers and that Mr Hinds had “made it clear” that funding would be one of his priorities ahead of the 2019 spending review.

Damian Hinds said the register will help give a picture of home education
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Education Secretary Damian Hinds is also subject to the case

Sir James Eadie QC, representing the ministers, said Mr Hammond had “consistently given careful consideration and appropriate weight” to the situation, but that his focus was on “competing and pressing” calls for the “scarce resource” of government funding.

He added: “These decisions have been taken in full knowledge of the challenges faced by local authorities identified above.

“In addition, they have been taken in the context of a complex policy area – school funding – which requires the secretary of state (for education) to make difficult decisions balancing competing priorities.

“As noted, decisions by the chancellor are still more multi-faceted, requiring needs in this policy area to be balanced against those in many others, against the background of a finite pool of government resources.”

The families are being supported by campaign network Send Action – which held a demonstration outside the Royal Courts of Justice ahead of the hearing – as well as charities Mencap and the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS).

The case will be heard over two days, following which Mr Justice Lewis is expected to reserve judgement to a later date.

The High Court previously rejected cases brought by families of children with special educational needs against Hackney and Surrey councils.

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