PARENTS of children with severe special needs are "at breaking point" because their funding has been cut, an MP has warned.

Julian Lewis called for action from the government to address the "black hole" he said was hindering the development of teenagers.

The Tory MP for New Forest East said youngsters aged between 16 and 18 were being denied the right to education by a tightening of the rules.

Adults with learning difficulties are also losing out as their free courses are scaled back, he said.

Funding is increasingly concentrated on students obtaining qualifications to prepare them for the world of work.

However, education is also crucial for the personal development of the most severely mentally disabled students, who may never be able to secure academic qualifications, Dr Lewis told MPs.

He told MP about a constituent, 38-year-old Jessica Snell, who has Down's syndrome. Her father, former Brockenhurst College principle Mike Snell, wrote to Dr Lewis saying funding for her weekly course was no longer available.

He was supported in Parliament by New Forest-based charity SCARF (Supporting special children and their relatives and friends).

Funding is available up to the age of 16 through education budgets, then from 18 via social services. But those aged between 16 and 18 "fall between two stools", he said.

"If something goes terribly wrong in that two-year gap, the cost - in terms of both human suffering and additional support from the state resulting from the fallout of something going wrong at that time - will be colossal."

Many colleges could now only provide classes for three days a week, he said, and read out a letter from a constituent who had been forced to pay £120 a week for private care on the other two days.

Responding, Education Minister Edward Timpson insisted overall funding had not been reduced, saying colleges should not automatically cut the number of days' tuition they offer. He called on them to look for "innovative"

solutions instead.