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The UK doesn’t work for rising numbers of children

Last year the Prime Minister declared austerity was ‘over’. Fast forward to this year’s Spring Statement and it’s clear that the policy is still very much alive and well, but at what cost to our society?

Since 2010, local authority budgets have been halved whilst the level and complexity of need in our communities is increasing. Our ability to step in and help families earlier and prevent them from reaching crisis point is being eroded as early help and preventative services continue to be a casualty of funding cuts. At the same time, there is a lengthy and growing list of legal responsibilities for us in relation to children, young people and families, including new duties that aren’t always fully funded. For example, extending the cohort of care leavers who can ask for support from a personal advisor to 25 is the right thing to do but the money councils have received for this is woefully inadequate and adds a significant pressure to our already very challenging financial position, as does inadequate funding from the Home Office to cover the costs of caring for unaccompanied asylum seeking children. Councils must spend on statutory child protection where need exists but this means having to cut the very services that help reduce future demand. It’s a false economy and it’s not the right thing to do but our hands are tied in the absence of an improved funding settlement for children’s services. Although there has been some additional funding for children’s social care this is far from what is needed. More small, time limited pots of funding aimed at single issues for some local authorities over others are not the solution to the growing pressures we all face. Collectively, children’s services overspent by over £800 million in 2017/18 and we face a £3 billion funding gap by 2025. A recent report by the Public Accounts Committee deemed the financial position of the sector unsustainable.

Other vital public services, such as schools, health and the police, aren’t immune either and are facing their own financial challenges. The evidence of how this is impacting on our communities is stark – an estimated 600 youth centres closed between 2012 and 2016, 1200 children’s centres closed since 2010, more children being taken into care, too many children being excluded from schools and children waiting weeks, sometimes months, before they can get the mental health support they need. Child poverty is increasing too, there are queues outside food banks and more vulnerable families are being housed in temporary accommodation facing the indignity of shared bathroom facilities due to rising living costs and insecure tenancies. This country does not ‘work for everyone’, least of all for growing numbers of children…but it could if the political will was there, and the public support.

Before I hand over the ADCS presidency to the very capable Rachel Dickinson, Executive Director People in Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council, I have a plea for the Treasury – if this government is serious about improving social mobility and enabling every child to thrive, and not just barely survive, then you have to value them, recognise their potential and invest in them and their futures. There must be a two-pronged approach to funding if we are to meet the needs of children now and in the future – investment in both statutory, high end services and in early help. It is within your gift to fund a country that works for all children but time is running out.

Stuart Gallimore is Director of Children’s Services at East Sussex County Council and outgoing President of ADCS 2018/19.

This column was first published in LGC on 2 April 2019 | Weblink

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