Tory cuts leave more vulnerable children at risk

Funding cuts have forced councils to slash spending on vital children's services.

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As a result of authorities being compelled to slash spending on programmes that prevent children from getting into harm’s way by half, more vulnerable youngsters than ever require crisis assistance.

According to a recent analysis commissioned by The Children’s Society, Action for Children, Barnardo’s, National Children’s Bureau, and the NSPCC, investment in early intervention support by councils in England plummeted by 50 percent between 2010/11 and 2020/21, from £3.8 billion to £1.9 billion.

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Spending on social care for children decreased by £249 million, or 2.4%, over the past decade, despite an increase in the number of vulnerable young people.

In 2020/21, authorities spent an average of £580 per young person, as opposed to £616 per young person in 2010/11.

According to the network of nonprofit organisations, councils have battled with the effects of budget cuts, with many of the poorest regions suffering the most.

The research by Pro Bono Economics found that dwindling funding for early support services – ranging from children’s centres and youth clubs to targeted assistance with issues such as drug and alcohol abuse – prevents families from receiving the assistance they need to prevent problems from escalating.

This has resulted in a vicious cycle in which authorities are compelled to spend more on expensive crisis help, leaving more children and adolescents vulnerable to hazards such as exploitation, neglect, and mental illness.

Mark Russell, Chief Executive at The Children’s Society, said: “Behind these shocking figures, which saw spending on services for young people fall by three-quarters (74%) from £1.3bn to £300m, are children who have missed out on vital early support, many of whom end up in care.

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“Young people have told us they felt they needed to get hurt or harm someone in order be taken seriously.

“It’s a big concern that children in deprived areas, where needs may be greatest, are often among those least likely to get help before problems spiral out of control.

“If ministers are serious about Levelling Up they must better target funding to the areas that need it most. But councils everywhere have struggled amid government funding cuts and this is why we are calling on whoever becomes the next Prime Minister to ensure children’s services teams across the country get the extra funding they desperately need, sooner not later.”

Spending for crisis and late intervention programmes increased by more than a third (37 percent) over the past decade, from £6 billion to £8.2 billion, according to the study Stopping The Spiral.

This was driven by a 24 percent increase in the number of children in care to over 80,000, at an additional cost of £1.3 billion. Eighty-five percent (80.5%) of local authority children’s social care spending was toward these services, which are more likely to be in response to harm and which councils are required by law to provide, compared to 58.5% in 2010-2011.

Pro Bono Economics estimates that government funding available to councils for children’s services decreased by 22 percent between 2010/11 and 2020/21, from £10.4bn to £8.1bn, with the poorest local authority areas – where children’s and families’ needs may be greatest – often forced to make the largest cuts to early support services.

In these regions, early intervention expenditures per child decreased by 61% on average, whereas late intervention expenditures increased by 25%. The West Midlands (66%) and North East (63%) had the greatest declines in expenditure on early assistance per child over the past decade, followed by the East Midlands (59%) and North West (54%).

As recommended by the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, the coalition of charities is requesting that the next Prime Minister invest a minimum of £2.6 billion on social care for children.

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According to them, while investment is required everywhere, there is a compelling need for targeted support in poor regions due to the rising cost of living and the increasing number of children and families living in poverty.

The care review proposes increased investment beginning in 2023/24, but the charities argue that cash is urgently required now to aid the growing number of children requiring support and to combat the financial problems confronting authorities.

They are requesting that local authorities receive additional cash in the first Budget of the new Prime Minister, including funds to create more family centres, which provide essential early assistance for children of all ages and their families.

Imran Hussain, Director of Policy and Campaigns at Action for Children, said: “Across political divides there has been recognition of the value to communities and the public purse of investing in services that help individuals and families early, before more serious and more costly problems develop.

“Town halls are being placed in an impossible position by decisions made in Whitehall. The Government has to give local authorities the resources they need to invest in preventative services to stem the tide of children coming to harm before they’re helped.”

Josh MacAlister, chair of the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care said: “These worrying figures support my call for a radical reset of the system to shift the focus towards intensive earlier support for families.

“It’s crucial that reform comes with the investment needed to boost support for families so that more children can grow up in loving families and that the care system can provide the same foundations.

“Tinkering at the edges while continuing to pour money into a crumbling system is unsustainable and it’s vital that the next Prime Minister seizes this opportunity to make a difference to the lives of children and families, now and in the future.”

The children’s social care study warns that if current trends continue, 100,000 children might be in care by 2032, with councils’ expenses increasing from £10 billion to £15 billion annually.

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