Services are at a tipping point from austerity
Tuesday, October 31, 2017
Over recent months there has been a big head of steam building to put pressure on the government to tackle the children's services funding crisis in the next Budget.
The Local Government Association (LGA) has been publicly decrying a £2bn funding gap; children's services leaders have spoken out forcefully about the role of child poverty in the rising levels of need; the Disabled Children's Partnership has been campaigning on the largely invisible crisis facing services and support for disabled children and their families; and at Children England we've been calling for a Children Act funding formula to avert the dire 2020 cliff-edge for council finances. But whatever our particular asks, all sector voices have shared a common core message - money matters and there's just not enough of it. In the words of the LGA: "We cannot carry on like this."
Children's minister Robert Goodwill said again at the National Children and Adults Services conference in Bournemouth that he is still very much in listening mode. Unfortunately, his answer on this topic is that he won't ask the Treasury for any more funding until he feels councils are spending their existing funds better. It's a familiar trope that we've heard regularly throughout the last seven years, and not only from political leaders but quite a few of our own sector leaders too. The argument goes along these lines: the problem isn't austerity or Whitehall cuts (about which we should stop our futile complaining or campaigning), it's all down to inefficient councils who don't know how to spend their money more effectively on what works better. Some councils have managed, so why can't all of them? Why "reward" poor performance?
Even if this may have sounded a reasonable challenge to council managers and children's services leaders back in 2010, the repetition of the same tired rhetoric seven years later, and more than 40 per cent cuts down the road, just won't wash any more. The idea that better children's service management is the solution to rising child protection referrals, hunger, evictions and homeless families, children's centre closures - and all of their "upstream" impacts on record numbers of children coming into care-only needs saying out loud to be shown as evasive and nonsensical.
It has taken seven years of valiantly managing cuts before children's service leaders reached a tipping point of collectively speaking out about funding. The significance of this tipping point seems to be lost on the minister - and whether that's down to his recent entry to the sector, or a dogmatic belief that it really is all a management problem, he has called it entirely wrong.
The worsening funding crisis for children cannot be "managed" away. It is not "poor performing" managers who will suffer the impact of Goodwill's refusal to ask for any more funds, any more than they will be "incentivised" to do better by getting no more funding. It is children and their families who will suffer the impact of his decision, too many of whom are paying the real price of austerity already.
Kathy Evans is chief executive of Children England