THE BLOG
05/12/2013 06:05 GMT | Updated 03/02/2014 05:59 GMT

The Autumn Statement: Will Capping Welfare Help Vulnerable Families?

I know, from Action for Children's work with some of the UK's most vulnerable families, that tens of thousands of children are facing desperate situations at home. To make matters worse, the life-saving services that help keep them afloat are slowly being removed as funding cuts take hold.

If Chancellor George Osborne caps welfare spending without thinking enough about those in dire need, he is at risk of making a short-sighted mistake for which children will pay the highest price.

We have already seen an increasing number of children getting help only when they reach crisis point which, for many, is often too late. One disabled young man, Alex, who we work with told us, "It's sort of nerve-racking to think I'm on my own until something goes really badly wrong. It's like you can have the support, but only when things are getting bad."

Funding cuts have coincided with increasing pressures on households caused by unemployment, poverty and family breakdown. We know the impact these struggles have on children; our research shows that nearly two-thirds of our services are seeing children who require more help than ever before. According to Action for Children's latest research, more than half our frontline staff questioned reported the deterioration of children's mental health. So much of the pressure on these young people is due to problems completely out of their control; more than half our staff said children are struggling because of domestic violence in their homes and 63% said young people are coping with parental depression.

On top of this, we are working with families dealing with the ever increasing costs of living, having to make decisions between heating their homes and putting food on the table - this should not be the picture of families in 21st Century Britain.

The cap on welfare spending will just add to these problems unless it comes alongside measures that compensate for the impact on children and reduce the need for welfare in the first place.

That is why in tomorrow's Autumn Statement, Action for Children hopes that the Chancellor will emphasise the need for and funding of early intervention. We know it is vital in picking up problems and providing critical support that families need to avoid an escalation into potentially unsafe situations for children.

Some of the best and most accessible early support for children happens in services such as children's centres - they can change lives by linking vulnerable families with health, social care and other services. Without children's centres, there is a very high chance that some of the families we work with will have little or no support left.

A cap on welfare runs the risk of increasing the need for expensive interventions in future, both financially and in terms of personal and avoidable costs to children. If we are to see fewer families dependent on welfare, there must be a reversal of the squeeze on early intervention services before it's too late.