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Children's services in England in financial crisis, say charities
England’s child protection and support services are in financial crisis, with the heaviest cuts burden falling disproportionately on the north of the country and in the most deprived areas, research by the UK’s ‘big five’ children’s charities found.

Councils overall suffered a 29-percent cut in government funding for children’s departments between 2010 and 2017-18 — equivalent to £3 billion — despite spiraling demand for a range of services, from family crisis support to child protection, the research said, theguardian.com reported.

Ongoing austerity cuts would put thousands more children at risk of being placed in care, the charities said, as pressure grew on vulnerable families from rising child poverty and mental illness to increased incidence of sexual or criminal exploitation.

Julie Bentley, the chief executive at one of the five charities, Action for Children, said, “Children’s services are at breaking point and these alarming figures reveal the true scale of the devastating and dangerous funding cuts made year after year by successive governments.”

The charities said the cuts were unsustainable, and called for extra investment in children’s services through the spending review due this autumn, as well as a funding overhaul to ensure that children’s services in the poorest areas — where both demand and cuts were highest — were properly resourced.

The research, which reflects growing concern over cuts to children’s services, was published by the Children’s Services Funding Alliance, which comprises Action for Children, National Children’s Bureau, Barnardo’s, The Children’s Society and the NSPCC.

The top five children’s services ‘funding cuts’ hotspots’ identified by the study were all London boroughs — Westminster, Tower Hamlets, Camden, Newham, and Hackney — all of which saw per-child funding reductions of between 45 percent and 52 percent. Funding on this basis fell by 37 percent overall in greater London.

Nationally, funding per child fell by 32 percent although there were regional variations, including signs of a north-south divide. The northeast, Yorkshire and the Humber, and the northwest experienced per-head funding cuts of 33 percent, with cuts as high as 45 percent in Manchester, 43 percent in Nottingham and 42 percent in Birmingham.

This measured against 25 percent in the southeast region, with per-child cuts over the same 2010-2018 period as comparatively low as 18 percent in Devon, 19 percent in Hampshire and 20 percent in Surrey — although the study pointed out that no regions had escaped significant funding reductions.

Of the 40 English authorities with the biggest government per-head cuts to children’s services, 36 are controlled by Labour. Funding in the most deprived authorities fell almost twice as fast as in the least deprived councils, even though the poorest areas had higher numbers of children taken into care.

 

The research found:

 

• Council spending on early intervention services for children including Sure Start centers and youth clubs fell by 49 percent to £1.9bn since 2012. More than 1,000 children’s centers and 600 youth clubs have closed. Spending on disabled children fell 11 percent.

There was a 12 percent increase in spending on late intervention, fueled by a 17-percent increase in the number of children in care since 2010. Child protection and youth justice spending also soared, a trend that was “unlikely to change in the near future”, the charities said.

The minister for children and families, Nadhim Zahawi, said, “We want every child to have the best start in life, with the opportunities and the stability to fulfil their potential, which is why we have made £200 billion available to councils up to 2020 for local services, including those for children and young people.”

Emma Lewell-Buck, Labour’s minister for children and families, said, “This report should be a wakeup call to the government. With cuts set to continue while demand rises, more children will lose out on these vital services and the devastating impact of austerity will be felt in the most vulnerable communities for years to come.”

Stuart Gallimore, the president of the Association of Directors of Children’s services, said demand for services had risen in tandem with child poverty, and poorer families struggled to afford necessities such as food and clothes: “Correct me if I’m wrong but this doesn’t sound like a country that works for all children.”

Barnardo’s chief executive, Javed Khan, said, “In every community children face growing challenges … and in many areas the services they once relied on just aren’t there anymore. As a result, far too often families are reaching crisis point — with rising numbers of children being taken into local authority care.”

The research comes amid concern long waits for youth mental health services, school budget cuts and growing demand for services for youngsters with special educational needs and disabilities. Councils have said financial pressures caused by rising demand for children’s services threaten to tip town halls into bankruptcy.

 

 

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