Charities warn of one third fall in children's services' funding

Analysis shows funding has fallen by a third per child in England since 2010

Published on 27th February 2019

Children's services funding has fallen by a third per child in England since 2010, new analysis has revealed.

A report by Action for Children, Barnardo’s, NSPCC, The Children’s Society and the National Children’s Bureau highlights the worst hit areas for cuts to children's services and says the five worst hit are all in London.

Chief executive at Action for Children, Julie Bentley, said: “Children’s services are at breaking point and these alarming figures reveal the true scale of the devastating and dangerous funding cuts made year after year by successive governments.

“Every day at Action for Children we see that children’s services can be a lifeline for families – from helping mums suffering with post-natal depression or families struggling to put food on the table, to spotting children quietly living in fear of domestic abuse or neglect. Thousands of families across the country rely on these services to step in and stop problems spiralling out of control.

“With the number of child protection cases and children being taken into care at their highest for a decade, it’s unthinkable to continue forcing councils to make crippling cuts to services. Without urgent cash from central government, thousands more children at risk of neglect and abuse will slip through the cracks and into crisis," she added.

The largest cuts have been in London:

- Westminster tops the list with funding slashed by more than half (51%)

- Tower Hamlets (49%)

- Camden (49%)

- Newham (46%) and

- Hackney (46%).

Yet councils elsewhere in the country have experienced cuts with areas such as Manchester experiencing a 45% drop, and Nottingham and Birmingham seeing a 43% fall, making it into the country’s top twenty “kids’ cuts hotspots.

Councils are facing a £3 billion funding gap for children’s services by 2025, with many services having already been stripped back or shut down. Over 1,000 children’s centres have closed since 2004, while 760 youth centres have shut since 2015.

The charities warn that thousands more children and young people could fall into crisis if these cuts continue.

Chief executive at The Children’s Society, Nick Roseveare, said: “Vulnerable children are continuing to pay the price as councils face a toxic cocktail of funding cuts and soaring demand for help. This shocking analysis lays bare the enormous scale of this funding challenge, which is making it near impossible for councils to offer vital early support to children and young people to prevent problems escalating.

“Funding cuts are not only an inhumane economy, they are also a false one. The reductions in early help for children they lead to simply intensify the need for more costly interventions further down the road - like taking children into care as they face growing risks, including everything from substance misuse and mental health problems, to repeatedly going missing, and being sexually or criminally exploited.

“The government now faces a stark choice at the next Spending Review: either continue to leave councils short of the money they need to keep children safe, or address the funding gap and give some of our most vulnerable young people hope of a brighter future.”

However the report highlights that despite cuts to funding for children’s services, many councils have sought to protect this area as best they can – with spending falling by less than the funding drop. Councils may be making up the difference by drawing on reserves or slashing spending on other areas – but the charity alliance stressed neither approach is sustainable in the long-term.

Chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, said: "Children’s social care is facing a country-wide cash crisis, with nine in 10 councils spending more than they planned to last year. While the report notes that these cuts have affected different areas in different ways, it is clear that all councils are now finding their budgets under enormous pressure as a result of the ongoing children’s care cash crisis.

“The report rightly highlights that councils have worked hard to protect vulnerable children and families from the full scale of cuts, with spending on children’s services falling far less than the funding available from government.

“But the analysis also demonstrates the real impact that these funding cuts are having on communities across the country, with councils all too often forced to cut the early intervention services which can help children avoid needing more serious and costly care later on.

“It is vital that the government heeds the consistent and increasingly urgent warnings that children’s services are now at a tipping point, and uses the upcoming Spending Review to deliver a long-term strategy that enables councils to meet the growing need for support from some of the most vulnerable children in society.”

Stuart Gallimore, ADCS President, added: "Here is yet another report illustrating the increasing pressures facing children and the services they rely on across the country. For how long will our unified calls for proper investment in children and their futures go ignored?

“There are more children in our society than ever before yet they are not being prioritised in policy decisions made in Whitehall. Since 2010, local authority budgets have been halved but the complexity and level of need in our communities has increased. As the report notes, local authorities must fund statutory child protection services where need exists but this has been at the expense of vital preventative and community services that prevent children and families’ needs from escalating, such as children’s centres, youth services and libraries. At the same time, life is getting harder for many; families are struggling to afford basic necessities; food banks are running out of supplies; schools are providing their pupils with clothes and even sanitary products, despite facing significant funding pressures of their own; and, child poverty is rising, driving further demand for our services. Correct me if I’m wrong but this doesn’t sound like a country that works for all children. Local authorities are committed to doing all we can to improve the lives of children and their families but only changes to national policy will make the difference.

“While some local authorities have benefitted from small, time limited pots of ring fenced funding this is neither a sustainable nor an equitable way forward. It does nothing to meet the needs of the system as a whole. Government must go beyond rhetoric of improving children’s life chances by investing a greater share of this country’s resources in them and their futures, but in the right way. We urge government to put children at the heart of the upcoming spending review by committing to a no deficit model of funding for children’s services with early intervention at its core. Without this, the human and, financial, costs will be huge," he concluded.

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