Local authorities across the country are at breaking point, and now the strain is falling on children’s services as the devastating cost of austerity is beginning to take hold. These children deserve a life like the one that many of us took for granted, but yesterday’s budget offered nothing for vulnerable children and their families. In recent months, councillors from all parties have been warning about the growing crisis in support for vulnerable children. Yesterday’s Budget showed that the Government was not listening.
The past seven years of austerity has hit some of the most vulnerable in our society the hardest. In the last year alone, 646,120 children sought out support after suffering from neglect or emotional abuse. Since 2010 the number of child protection investigations have increased by 108% to 185,450 cases a year - with little to suggest that this trend is likely to change without major intervention from central government.
Most children’s social workers agree that early intervention is crucial but with reducing funds and an increasing number of children requiring emergency support, councils have been forced to cut back on preventative services. Just last week three leading children’s charities (Children’s Society, Action for Children and the National Children’s Bureau) warned that early intervention services had been hit hardest by government cuts finding that’s since the Tories came to power, targeted funding for early intervention has fallen by 55 %. By the end of the decade it is set to fall another 29% in real terms (or £808 million) with the most-deprived councils cutting funding six times more than the least-deprived.
Although these cuts have clear implications for vulnerable children - this is an issue that effects all of the services that we all rely on. As council’s have a statutory requirement to protect vulnerable children, funding cuts have forced council’s to cut into other budgets to meet their legal obligations. But even then - after cuts are made to bin collections, libraries, sure start centres and all other services that councils provide; more and more councils are finding that there is still not enough funding to provide the bare minimum of child protection services. The Local Government Association (LGA) has estimated that this funding gap will grow to £2 billion by 2020.
This combination of year-on-year cuts and steadily rising demand recently led the LGA to warn that local authorities are beginning to ration the children’s services that they are able to fund - turning away all but the most severe cases. At a time when children and young people need support from mental health services, too many are being turned away due to cutbacks. A joint survey of 3,000 NHS therapists from the Association of Child Psychotherapists, British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy, British Psychoanalytic Council and UK Council for Psychotherapy found that a third of children’s mental health services are downsizing or are facing closure. When asked about the impact of funding cuts on the availability of mental health support, 84% of NHS counsellors, psychotherapists and psychoanalysts warned that children are now required to have increasingly severe levels of illness before they are able to get help. During the House of Commons Health Select Committee yesterday, the Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, gave evidence that children as young as 13 were “having to have attempted suicide” as that is what “they would need to do to get treatment”.
Unless the Government finally listens to the demands of councillors, parents and politicians of all parties, we will see more and more vulnerable children go without the care that they need and councils will be pushed dangerously close to the financial brink. But this crisis demands more than just additional funding, it requires a new way of thinking about how we value and fund our public services. Labour are calling on the government to prioritise the services children and families need, providing sustainable funding for public services before this crisis turns into a catastrophe for vulnerable children and families up and down the country. With far too many vulnerable children without support, making sure that our local government has adequate funding to protect the most vulnerable children is not something that should be up for debate. The Budget’s failure yesterday to acknowledge the pressure facing Children’s Services shows just how blind this Government are to the issues facing this country - history will not look kindly on a Government that promised so little, and delivered even less.