MPs make children’s services Spending Review plea to chancellor

1 May 19

The Spending Review must provide a six-year £3.1bn package for local authorities’ children’s services “at a minimum”, MPs have urged.

Children’s services in England are at “crisis point” and extra funding must go “hand in hand” with systemic change, according to a report from the housing, communities and local government committee.  

The report, out today, stated that local authorities in England provide a range of statutory and non-statutory services at an annual cost of £9bn but councils are overspending on budgets and becoming “increasingly reliant” on the goodwill of social care professionals.

Due to financial pressures and increasing demand councils are “prioritising child protection work and reducing spending on non-statutory children’s services”, the report said.

As such the report called on the government to announce a successor to the Troubled Families Programme – ending in 2020 – which councils rely on to provide non-statutory early help services.

The report noted that between 2008 and 2018, the number of looked after children increased from 59,400 to 75,420.

Clive Betts, chair of the HCLG committee, said it is “vital” the right support is available in every part of the country.

“Over the last decade we have seen a steady increase in the number of children needing support, whilst at the same time funding has failed to keep up,” he said.

He added: “It is clear that this approach cannot be sustained, and the government must make serious financial and systemic changes to support local authorities in helping vulnerable children. We have reached crisis point and action is needed now.”

The report highlighted the negative impact that poor recruitment and retention of social care workers was having on both children and local authority finances.

It said: “High turnover and low retention of the children’s social care workforce point to a system that isn’t working well.

“Children pay the price as professional relationships break down. It has a cost for local authorities who resort to filling vacancies with agency staff and may, if financially viable, have to spend money on attracting staff.”

Eleanor Roy, CIPFA policy manager health and social care, said: “[The] report raises concerns about fulfilling the increasing demand for children’s services, as it shows local authorities drawing back on discretionary, often preventative, services that could avoid young people and families reaching crisis point in the first place.

“The funding packets provided by government simply aren’t enough to repair the breaking point children’s services are currently facing. Vital additional funding is required urgently to reduce pressures on the front line staff working to prevent dire situations for young people most in need of support.”

CIPFA is the professional body for people in public finance and a leading commentator on managing and accounting for public money. Our role is to stand up for sound public financial management and good governance around the world.

Children’s commissioner for England Anne Longfield said: “We cannot just cross out fingers and hope that vulnerable children will be alright and this report must be a final wake up call to the government.

“Ministers must accept that children’s services are in desperate need of funding to improve what they offer children, rather than just stand still or go backwards, and that some failing authorities need more help.”

Imram Hussain, director of policy and campaigns at the charity Action for Children, said: It’s our most vulnerable children who are paying the price for the punishing central government cuts to council budgets, and being left without the early help they desperately need. 

“Every day at Action for Children we see families suffering at the hands of domestic abuse, neglect or alcoholism – scars that can stay with children for the rest of their lives. But cash-strapped councils are being asked to deliver critical children’s services with one hand tied behind their backs.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has been contacted for comment.

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