Children's cuts could cost election, say Conservative councillors

By agency reporter
September 3, 2019

More than four-fifths of Conservative councillors (82 per cent) fear cuts to vital local services like support for vulnerable children could cost their party at the next General Election, according to a new poll by leading children’s charities.

The Survation poll of 502 Conservative councillors in England commissioned by The Children’s Society, Action for Children and the National Children’s Bureau, found widespread fears that a failure to properly fund services such as children’s social care would damage the Conservative Party’s chances at the next election. 

Nearly half of councillors (48 per cent) strongly agreed the Conservatives’ election prospects would be harmed, with just over a third (34 per cent) saying they somewhat agreed.

More than two-thirds of councillors (70 per cent) feared their local councils would be left financially unsustainable if central government funding cuts continued over the next five years, with  nearly a third (31 per cent) strongly agreeing with this statement.

The charities are urging the Government to address an estimated £3 billion funding shortfall facing council children’s services departments by 2025, starting with this week’s one-year public spending round.  They say funding cuts have forced councils to scale back vital early help for vulnerable children and families, resulting in more children reaching crisis point and requiring more expensive support. 

The poll also found Conservative councillors were worried about the impact of Government funding cuts on children in their local areas.  More than half (54 per cent) believed reduced funding for children’s services had made a negative impact on children in their area, with a fifth (20 per cent) strongly agreeing with that statement.

Two-thirds of councillors agreed (31 per cent strongly, 36 per cent somewhat) that central government funding cuts had made it harder for their council to fulfil statutory duties to children and young people such as child protection and supporting children in care. 

Around six in 10 councillors said police, health services and schools had been put under extra pressure by reduced spending on children’s services.  More than half thought spending on youth services – which have already been hit by major funding cuts –  would fall over the next five years unless something changed.  A similar proportion believed spending on children’s centres would be reduced.

Mark Russell, Chief Executive at The Children’s Society, said: “These findings must act as a real wake-up call for the Government and show that ministers need not just take our word for it that these funding cuts are having a devastating impact upon vulnerable children.

“Councillors of all political colours are struggling to ensure their councils can provide vital early help for children and families, meaning that problems they face are more likely to reach crisis point and require more expensive interventions which are financially unsustainable for many councils.

“The Government must address this worrying situation as a matter of urgency, starting with the forthcoming spending announcement – the future of thousands of children may depend upon it.”

Director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, Imran Hussain, said: “It’s clear from the widespread fear among frontline Conservatives that the crippling cuts to town hall budgets have gone too far. Stripping back children’s services is not only leaving our most vulnerable children at risk but is also putting additional pressure on the NHS, local schools and the police.

“Despite being told austerity is at an end, every day at Action for Children we continue to see first-hand the awful impact of children blighted by issues such as abuse and neglect struggling to get the support they need from ailing services which should be keeping them safe and well.

“The only way to fix this country’s growing crisis in childhood - and take pressure off our over-stretched nurses, teachers and police officers - is for the government to start investing in our children. It can do this by establishing a National Childhood Strategy so the Prime Minister can get a grip on these issues, backed with funding for urgently needed services to keep children safe from harm.”

Earlier this year, following analysis of official figures, the charities published a new briefing which estimated that funding available for council children’s services in England had fallen by a third per child since 2010.

They said early intervention services had been particularly hard hit, including everything from youth clubs and children’s centres, to support with substance misuse and domestic abuse, and respite care for families of disabled children.  More than 1,000 children’s centres have closed since 2009 2, while 760 youth centres have shut since 2012.

At the same time, the number of children protection enquiries submitted to councils more than doubled from 87,700 in March 2010 to 198,090 in March 2018, while the number of children in care rose 17 per cent from 64,400 to 75,420 over the same period.

* Action for Children https://www.actionforchildren.org.uk/

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