Tulip Siddiq calls for ‘broken’ children’s social care system to be rebuilt

Isabella McRae
Wednesday, December 9, 2020

The “broken system” within children’s social care must be rebuilt following decades of cuts to local authority funding, Labour’s shadow minister for children and early years has said.

Tulip Siddiq criticised the government's response to Covid-19. Picture: Adobe Stock
Tulip Siddiq criticised the government's response to Covid-19. Picture: Adobe Stock

Speaking at the Early Intervention Foundation’s national conference yesterday (8 December), Tulip Siddiq criticised the government’s handling of support services for vulnerable children during the Covid-19 pandemic.

She said: “They have been treated like an afterthought in policy making.”

Siddiq said that during the first lockdown, which began in March, “many thousands of children were struggling or facing potentially very serious problems, hidden from view and from support services.”

School closures and restrictions on socialising are “disruptive” and have had a “huge impact on the wellbeing of children”, she added.

Eighty per cent of children and young people said their mental health had worsened as a result of the pandemic, according to one survey by YoungMinds, while a report from the children’s commissioner for England Anne Longfield warned thousands of “hidden” children were experiencing increased domestic violence and neglect behind closed doors.

Siddiq said: “Many have been dealing with very profound isolation without their usual support networks and support through schools.”

As a result of lockdown, two million children faced increased threats to their safety, from domestic abuse to online grooming, Siddiq told the conference, adding that, some 200,000 children were skipping meals at the height of the pandemic.

School closures have also widened the disadvantage gap between wealthier students and their more disadvantaged peers, she highlighted, citing numerous reports which showed that almost one million children were unable to access laptops or the internet at home during the lockdown, and many children currently self-isolating cannot access digital equipment.

“There are so many lessons to learn from past mistakes which we need to apply as we plan the recovery from coronavirus. There’s something fundamental that needs to change,” Siddiq said.

She criticised the fact that more than £2bn has been taken from children’s services funding since 2010 as a result of cuts to local authority budgets.

Last month, Croydon Council declared effective bankruptcy due to a £66m deficit in its budget which has led to plans for cuts to children’s social care.

“This decade of salami slicing left us unprepared for when Covid-19 hit,” the MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, said. “The cash injections we’ve seen this year have been necessary of course, but they don’t even begin to scratch the surfaces of the funding gaps that have developed.”

She claimed that “relentless cuts to council budgets by central government have inevitably led to a focus on crisis management, rather than preventative measures that could stop problems ending up at crisis point”.

“We’ve got children who need not to have gone into care ending up in care because they couldn’t access support early on,” she said, adding that more than one in five children who were referred to social care last year were also referred the year before.

Siddiq said that the government is spending more in the long-term on crisis management, and sectors such as youth justice, “to deal with problems that could have been addressed by well-resourced and targeted early intervention services”.

“We have a moral responsibility to fix this,” she added, “as it is holding children back and putting far too many in harm’s way every year.

“We must build back better after this pandemic. We cannot go back to the way things were before, with a broken system that neither gave children the support they needed, nor the best possible start in life.”

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