Sector slams Budget for failure to tackle funding shortage

By Derren Hayes

| 22 November 2017

Children's sector leaders have hit out at the lack of additional funding in the Budget to address pressures in schools, social care and youth services.

Chancellor Philip Hammond announced an extra £2.8bn for the NHS

Outlining the government's economic priorities for the coming year, Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond included an additional £2.8bn for the NHS up to 2020, incentives to boost house building and the creation of a homelessness taskforce to tackle rough sleeping in his autumn Budget.

However, the government's failure to address the estimated £2bn funding shortfall in council children's social care spending and significant pressures in the schools budget was criticised by charities, campaigners and sector leaders.

Richard Watts, chair of the Local Government Association children and young people board, said he was "extremely disappointing" with the lack of additional funding for children's services.

He said: "The government has been warned repeatedly that ongoing funding cuts have left councils struggling to provide the support that vulnerable children and families need.

"This vital service is rapidly becoming unsustainable. A further £2 billion funding gap will have opened up in just over two years' time, and this gap is likely to grow even larger unless immediate action is taken to address the growing demand for child protection services.

Alison Michalska, president of the Association of Directors of Children's Services, added: "Local authority budgets have been reduced, on average, by 40 per cent since 2010. We have worked tirelessly to protect our communities from the brunt of these cuts by reshaping our services or finding new ways of working but each budget round gets harder as local authorities look for more and more savings on top of those that have come before.

"We are forced to further reduce services in the very areas we know make an enormous difference to children and their families and can prevent them from reaching crisis point." 

Anna Feuchtwang, chief executive of the National Children's Bureau, said the lack of child-focused measures in the Budget had shown the Chancellor had "little concern for the plight of the nation's children".

"Councils across the country are facing increasing demand for children's social care, yet the government has ignored their warnings and done nothing to inject funding into services already cut to the bone," she said.

"Four in 10 councillors responsible for children's social care say that a lack of resources is preventing them from fulfilling their statutory duties to children. We should be stepping in early to help these children and families, but this budget will force councils to provide social care on an emergency basis only."

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said the government had chosen to "ignore evidence of the problems being created by real-terms cuts to education".

"The Chancellor has failed to reverse the real-terms education cuts; failed to provide new money to fully fund all areas of education; failed to level-up funding to address historic underfunding; and failed to guarantee the investment needed for future years," he said.

"With nine out of 10 schools facing real-terms cuts per pupil, the government is telling parents today that their children deserve less than was spent on children in previous years. Schools need £2bn a year extra funding to restore real-terms per pupil funding to 2015/16 levels."

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, added: "School budgets are at breaking point, and the Chancellor has done nothing to alleviate that pressure.

"It will now be impossible for many schools to avoid making redundancies, to continue to keep class sizes at an acceptable level, and to offer a full and rounded curriculum to all pupils.

"It is impossible to claim that this is a Budget which embraces the future when it doesn't contain any new money for schools or young people."

The National Youth Agency (NYA) was left disappointed by the government's failure to find additional resources for youth services.

Leigh Middleton, chief executive of NYA, said: "Youth services have taken a real battering over the past seven years, with expenditure falling by more than 50 per cent.

"It's not surprising that the numbers of young people in the social care system has risen, while youth services have shrunk. The nation needs urgent investment in youth services to prevent further negative outcomes for young people."

Following concerns raised about delays in benefit payments under the government's universal credit system, the Chancellor announced changes that will speed up the system.

However, The Children's Society chief executive Matthew Reed, said the changes are insufficient.

"The six-week waiting period has been plunging families into hunger, destitution and problem debt. Cutting this by a week and extending advance payments - which immediately get families into debt - simply does not go far enough," he said.

"We believe that the longest anyone should have to wait to receive their entitlement to universal credit is two weeks and that, from then on, claimants should get payments weekly if that's what they want."

Alison Garnham, chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, added: "This should have been the Budget that ushered in much-needed structural reform of universal credit to revive the central promise to strengthen the rewards from work. 

"What happens to universal credit will shape the future for children in low-income and just managing families. The budgets of ordinary families will not be fit for the future until the work allowances in universal credit have been restored to support parents who want to bring home higher wages."

The Budget also included plans for the national minimum wage to rise four per cent next April, raising concerns among early years organisations about the ability of childcare providers to absorb the rise in their wage bills.

National Day Nurseries Association's chief executive Purnima Tanuku said: "This Budget has increased the business costs that private, independent and voluntary nurseries must pay and done nothing to alleviate the challenges that the sector is facing.

"The Chancellor has given a clear message that this government is not interested in properly investing in early years and just expects the sector to get on with it while faced with all these increases."

The government also pledged to provide an additional £28m to Kensington and Chelsea Council to pay for mental health support for residents affected by the Grenfell Tower disaster and to regenerate the affected area.

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