Early help spending on children's services halved over last decade, warn children’s charities

Joe Lepper
Thursday, July 15, 2021

Council spending on early help for vulnerable children has halved over the last decade, according to latest figures from a group of major children’s charities.

Too many families are being met at crisis point, the reseach says. Picture: Adobe Stock
Too many families are being met at crisis point, the reseach says. Picture: Adobe Stock

Analysis, commissioned by children’s charities Barnardo’s, Action for Children, NSPCC the National Children’s Bureau (NCB) and the Children’s Society, has found that council spending on early intervention services for families fell from £3.6bn in 2010 to £1.8bn in 2020.

Cuts to early help include the closure of a thousand children’s centres and 750 youth centres since 2010, the report states.

Children in areas of disadvantage have been worst hit, the figures reveal, by a 59 per cent drop in funding for early help over the last ten years. In contrast the fall in the least deprived council areas was 38 per cent.

A government funding cut for council children’s services of 24 per cent, from £9.9bn in 2010/11 to £7.5bn in 2019/20 is a major factor in the reduction to early help budgets, say the charities involved in the research, which has been carried out by Pro Bono Economics.

NCB chief executive Anna Feuchtwang said: “It is unacceptable that so many children and families are being let down and denied the support that could allow them to enjoy happy and stable lives.

“This isn’t simply the result of a more risk-averse system. It is inescapably linked to the devastating erosion of central government funding for children’s services over the past decade.”

The cuts to early help coincide with an increase in spending on late and crisis intervention by councils, which increased by 34 per cent from £5.7bn 2010 to £7.6bn in 2020, the charities note.

They also found that the average annual cost of supporting a child in care has risen from £53,000 to £64,000 over the same period.

“It is the human costs of these funding cuts that are really worrying,” said Children’s Society chief executive Mark Russell.

“Behind the figures showing increased numbers going into care and becoming subject to child protection measures are heart-breaking stories of children facing sometimes horrific risks inside and outside the home, including neglect, abuse and exploitation.”

The cuts to early help and central government funding also come despite an increase of four per cent in the number of young people in England, with a similar rise in the number of vulnerable children, say the charities.

They want to see the government’s Spending Review this autumn commit to new investment to shift support from crisis intervention to early help for families.

Barnardo’s corporate director of development and innovation Michelle Lee-Izu said: “Helping children and families early must be at the heart of the government’s strategy for ‘levelling up’ and at the heart of spending decisions to be made this autumn.”

Action for Children director of policy and campaigns Imran Hussain added: “It’s a moral disgrace and an economic waste that children are left to come to harm before they’re given the help they need.

“An approach centred on firefighting crises is not a strategy that protects children. We will only be able to genuinely start preventing children coming to harm when we overhaul funding of early intervention services and can act quickly.

Meanwhile, NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanlass said: “If central government is serious about levelling up the country they must make a significant and long-term funding commitment to helping younger people before they hit crisis point.”   

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