Government cuts mean councils 'can help only children in crisis'

By agency reporter
November 16, 2017

Council spending on early help services that are designed to spot signs of neglect and abuse early has fallen by 40 per cent between 2010/11 and 2015/16, while crisis support has risen by seven per cent to £6.1 billion, according to the Turning the Tide report from The Children’s Society, Action for Children and the National Children’s Bureau.

In contrast to central government funding cuts, councils have cut their own spending on children’s services by slightly less, £1.6 billion over five years. At the same time, there has been a 108 per cent increase in child protection investigations, as demand for council help soars.

The research also found that the most deprived councils in England have cut spending on children’s services by almost a quarter (23 per cent), six times as much as the least deprived councils. Reductions in central government grants since 2010 have resulted in greater cuts to deprived councils’ spending power, hitting children in the poorest communities hardest.

Children’s and youth centres, teenage pregnancy support, short breaks for disabled children, information and advice for young people and family support are some of the services that are affected by the cuts to early intervention. Between 2010/11 and 2015/16, central government funding for early intervention services fell by £1.7 billion across England, the report reveals.

Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children’s Society, said, “Central government cuts to children’s services budgets have been nothing short of devastating, and services that could intervene early to stop problems escalating have been the hardest hit. Whilst more and more children are reaching crisis point, local authorities have found themselves less and less able to respond.

“All too often central government shrugs off responsibility for council spending decisions but the figures are stark and undeniable: councils are being denied the funding they need to provide safe, effective children’s services and spending on vital support is collapsing as a result. We are at a tipping point with more cuts yet to come. The government must step up and give councils the funds they need to protect our children.”

Sir Tony Hawkhead, chief executive at Action for Children, said, “Crippling central government funding cuts have left local authorities with no option but to close early help services designed to spot signs of abuse and neglect and move to a ‘crisis’ fire-fighting model.

“Leaving local authorities without the necessary resources to help children and families at an early stage has a devastating cost, both in social and financial terms.

“With no long-term solution on the table, children’s services are on an unstable and dangerous footing. We’re calling on the government to prioritise the services children need before this crisis turns into a catastrophe for the next generation of children and families.”

Anna Feuchtwang, Chief Executive of the National Children's Bureau, adds, “There is a relentless squeeze on funding for children's services and councils are seeing their budgets dwindle at an alarming rate. Do we really want a system that can only help children and young people at immediate risk of harm, but can't step in to help families before problems deteriorate? 

“We need urgent investment to alleviate the mounting pressure on children's services, and a commitment from Government that all children should get the right support at the right time.”

Responding to the report, Cllr Richard Watts, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said, “This report highlights the scale of government reductions to local authority children’s services funding in recent years, with £2.4 billion lost since 2010 and a further £2 billion shortfall expected over the next three years.

“Councils have worked hard to minimise the impact of these cuts, making savings wherever possible and providing an extra £900 million from reductions to other valuable services such as parks, libraries and street lighting to try and plug the gap as best they can.

“But with the number of children on child protection plans almost doubling over the past decade, councils are having to support tens of thousands of additional children each year while simultaneously managing significant reductions in central government funding. Last year saw the biggest annual increase in children in care since 2010, and councils simply cannot continue to provide the level of support that these children and young people need without urgent action to provide the funding necessary to do so.

“With such high demand for child protection services, councils have been forced to scale back the early help that can make such a difference in reducing the need for this support in the first place. This report suggests that government funding for early intervention has fallen by £1.7 billion since 2010, leaving local councils with the impossible task of attempting to continue delivering these services while also providing help and protection to the growing number of children at immediate risk of harm.

“We are calling on the Government to use the Autumn Budget to commit to fully funding children’s services and invest in improving services to ensure vulnerable children get the appropriate support and protection they need.”

Download the report Turning the Tide here

* National Children's Bureau https://www.ncb.org.uk/

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