Children's services 'at breaking point' due to funding cuts, charities warn

By Joe Lepper

| 26 February 2019

Funding for children's services in England has fallen by a third in the past eight years, research by a group of leading charities has found.

Action for Children chief executive Julie Bentley says children's services are "at breaking point". Picture: Action for Children

The analysis by a group of charities, including Action for Children and The Children's Society, found that between 2010/11 and 2017/18 funding from central government on children aged 0 to 19 dropped from £813 to £553 per child - a fall of 32 per cent.

The research also reveals that children's services funding in some areas has been cut by up to half since 2010.

The worst affected areas are in London, which is where all five of the worst "cuts hotspots" identified by the charities are located.

In Westminster, children's services funding per child has been cut by 51 per cent from £1,591 per child in 2010/11 to £761 in 2017/18.

While in Tower Hamlets and Camden, the fall is 49 per cent and in Newham and Hackney the figure is 46 per cent.

Other areas to see deep cuts include Manchester (45 per cent) as well as Nottingham and Birmingham (both 43 per cent).

Action for Children chief executive Julie Bentley said children's services are "at breaking point" due to austerity and increasing demand.

"These alarming figures reveal the true scale of the devastating and dangerous funding cuts made year after year by successive governments," she said.

She added: "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." 

Other charities involved in the research include NSPCC, National Children's Bureau and Barnardo's.

Chief executive at The Children's Society, Nick Roseveare, added: "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."

The charities say that many councils are looking to protect children's services budgets by drawing on reserves or cutting in other areas. But "neither approach is sustainable in the long term", added the charities. 

The analysis also includes the launch of an interactive map detailing the children's services funding situation in each local area of England.

Earlier this month, a survey by the Local Government Information Unit found that around a quarter of councils are planning cuts in children's services this year due to austerity and rising demand. This also found that more than half of councils are eating into their reserves.

Last November, Chancellor Philip Hammond sought to address the impact of rising numbers of children in the care system by announcing that 20 councils will share £84m in extra funding over the next five years.

But Association of Directors of Children's Services president Stuart Gallimore said far greater investment is needed.

"While some local authorities have benefitted from small, time-limited pots of ringfenced funding this is neither a sustainable nor an equitable way forward," he said.

"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."

Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the Local Government Association's children and young people board, added: "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."

Minister for children and families Nadhim Zahawi said: "We want every child to have the best start in life, with the opportunities and the stability to fulfil their potential, which is why we have made £200bn available to councils up to 2020 for local services including those for children and young people.

"The government announced £84m in evidence-based interventions which will help to reduce demand, saving money for local authorities, as well as providing a further £270m for councils to develop improvements in their services.

"The number of local children's services rated 'outstanding' is growing, and the number rated 'inadequate' has dropped by a third since 2017. By 2022, I want this reduced to fewer than 10 per cent of councils, and we are on track to meet this."

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