‘Lack of funding for children’s speech and language therapy’

11 Jun 19

Nearly one in five children in England start school with poor speech and language skills as English regions suffer funding cuts for therapy, research has found. 

The Children’s Commissioner for England, in a report out today, showed a real terms reduction in spending on children’s Speech and Language Therapy (SLT) in the majority of areas in England between 2016 and 2019.

Although total SLT spend in England rose from £143m in 2016-17 to £166m in 2018-19, most areas (57%) saw a real terms decrease in spending on services to improve children’s communication skills, the commissioner found.

The research concluded the 25% of Clinical Commissioning Groups that spent the most on SLT in 2018-19 spent an average of at least £16.35 per child, while the bottom 25% of areas spent £0.58 or less per child.  

Amongst children with an identified speech and language need, the top 25% of local authorities spent at least £291.65 per child, with the 25% that spent the least average a cost of £30.94 per child in the year.

Only one in four areas (23%) saw a real-terms increase in spend per child between 2016-17 and 2018-19, the commissioner’s report said.

Local authority spend per child is highest in London at £7.29 followed by the South East of England (£5.73) and East of England (£4.83). The lowest per child spend came in the East Midlands (£0.34), West Midlands (£0.90) and Yorkshire and Humber (£1.18).

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “Communications skills are vital for children starting school and for improving social mobility throughout a child’s education.

“We should be very concerned that almost one in five children aged five is behind in speech and language development and yet more than half of areas in England have seen a real-terms fall in spending on speech and language therapy in recent years.

“Those who fail to receive help are at greater risk of falling behind in education, or developing behavioural problems. There are far too many children who have ended up in youth custody, who had speech and language problems at school.”

The report noted that previous research has shown that children with poor vocabulary skills are twice as likely to be unemployed when they grow up, and over 60% of children in Young Offender Institutions have communication difficulties.

Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said: “Councils are working closely with local early education and childcare providers and Clinical Commissioning Groups to make sure children are ready to start school, but insufficient funding is impacting on the quality of provision and support for children with special needs, as providers struggle to balance budgets.”

The Department of Health and Social Care has been approached for comment.

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