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Let austerity end for children first

Earlier this month, The Housing, Communities and Local Government (HCLG) Select Committee added yet more evidence to the national debate about the growing pressures in children’s services. Helpfully, the Committee made clear that current envelope of funding for children’s services is insufficient and endorsed our view that time limited pots of funding for some local authorities, and not others, is not a replacement for a sustainable, equitable core funding for all.

Local authorities are ambitious about providing high quality services for vulnerable children, young people and their families but this is becoming increasingly tough. Our ability to improve children’s experiences and their outcomes is being hampered by a sustained period of austerity, a 50% reduction in our budgets and rising levels of need in communities. There was a little respite in the autumn statement but again it was one-off funding which fell far short of what is needed. Moreover, the list of new responsibilities for us continues to grow and however welcome these new duties are e.g. extending support for care leavers up to 25 years old, they’re rarely fully funded. On top of this, our existing preventative duties have never been sufficiently funded either, which only adds to the pressures we face.

Those working in local authorities will be all too familiar with the ‘balloon effect’ whereby in squeezing one part of the system, the pressure simply pops up elsewhere. But, what does this mean for children? The most obvious example is the scaling back of children’s centres and youth services, resulting in more children and families reaching crisis point. These services aren’t ‘nice to have,’ they’re essential to our support offer. Responding later is more costly, and our chances of intervening effectively reduced meaning children are less likely to get the help they need at the earliest possible stage and their childhood and future life chances are adversely affected as a result. Other examples of conflicting policy initiatives include: financial pressures coupled with the impact of wider educational reforms driving exclusive practices in some schools, reforms to welfare on top of a growth in poor quality work and a shortage of good housing is resulting in rising inequalities. In health, delays in receiving a diagnosis can mean months go by before children receive the help, support and education they both need and deserve.

As we look towards the next spending review, my plea to the Treasury is this: think of new funding for children’s services, including schools, not as a burden but as an investment in the future of our country. ADCS recently calculated that £2 billion would steady the ship but £3 billion would kick-start re-investment in the vital services we have lost. If austerity is truly ending, let it end for children first.

Rachel Dickinson is the Executive Director People at Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council and President of ADCS 2019/20.

This column was first published in the MJ on 28 May 2019 |

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