Labour urges government to tackle £2bn children's services funding crisis

Neil Puffett
Thursday, March 1, 2018

Labour's shadow chancellor John McDonnell has called on government to address the current "crisis" in children's services by providing additional money to plug a funding gap.

Speaking in parliament, John McDonnell said Chancellor Philip Hammond should use the spring statement, which will be delivered on 13 March, to help struggling children's services departments.

The Local Government Association has calculated that over the next three years, annual spending by councils on children's services will be nearly £2bn more than this year, claiming this "funding gap" can be attributed to rising demand in children's services and falling grants from central government.

McDonnell accused the government of having "no understanding whatsoever of the crisis created by the cuts of the past eight years and their impact on local government".

"The number of children taken into care is at its highest level since 1985, and one in three councillors are warning that the cuts have left them with insufficient resources to support these children," he said.

He added that nine out of 10 councils are struggling to meet their legal duties to children, half of councils are planning to further cut children's services and pointed to the words of president of the Association of Directors of Children's Services Alison Michalska, who has previously said "we cannot go on as we are".

"Recent estimates of government spending and income show that the Chancellor will have sufficient resources to protect our children from further cuts," McDonnell said.

"So I appeal to the Chancellor to use the flexibility he has to use the spring statement to address the £2bn funding gap in our children's services, to protect our children."

Responding to McDonnell, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss said that councils have the ability to raise additional income through council tax.

"We are making sure that local councils have the flexibility to raise council tax to fund these vital public services," she said.

"Labour has to acknowledge that this is not just about the money we spend but the way we spend it. The reality is that if the entire focus is on the level of spending rather than what we are doing, we end up with the situation that occurred in 2010 - vast increases in spending and services actually getting worse."

Department for Education figures published in November showed that there were 646,120 referrals to children's social care in 2016/17, up 3.97 per cent on the previous year.

The rising volume of referrals has led the number of section 47 child protection enquiries - whereby councils must investigate if they have reasonable cause to suspect that a child in their area is suffering, or is likely to suffer significant harm - conducted by councils rise from an average of 200 a day in 2006/7 to more than 500 a day in 2016/17.

A survey published earlier this month found that children's services is now the biggest financial pressure for councils, above adult social care for the first time in at least three years.

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