Councils at ‘breaking point’ over children’s social care cuts, LGA warns
Children’s social care services are in “crisis” with three in four councils having overspent their budgets last year, local authority leaders have warned.
Research carried out by the Local Government Association (LGA) found that overall councils went £605m over the amount allocated to children’s services between 2015/2016.
The body, which represents over 370 councils in England and Wales, has warned that increasing pressures on the services will see a £2bn funding gap by 2020.
Councillors say cuts have meant authorities are only able to step in and help children at “crisis point”, with little left to put towards early intervention programmes.
The LGA’s findings revealed a cut of almost £500m to the Early Intervention Grant since 2013, with a further £183m drop projected by 2020 – amounting to a 40% fall.
It said the funding cuts meant councils found it “increasingly difficult” to provide help that could prevent children entering the social care system in the first place.
The body add that an “unprecedented surge” has seen child protection enquiries hike by 140% since 2005/06 – with 170,000 in 2015/16, compared to 71,800 a decade ago.
Labour councillor Richard Watts, who chairs the LGA’s children and young people board, said councils had done “everything they can” to address the financial squeeze and that there were now “very few savings left to find.”
“With councils facing a £2bn funding gap for children’s services in just three years’ time it is more important than ever that the Government prioritises spending in this area,” he said.
“There is no question that early intervention can help to limit the need for children to enter the social care system, lay the groundwork for improved performance at school and even help to ease future pressure on adult social care by reducing the pressure on services for vulnerable adults.
“However, cuts to the Early Intervention Grant have exacerbated a difficult situation where councils cannot afford to withdraw services for children in immediate need of protection to invest in early help instead.
“The reality is that services for the care and protection of vulnerable children are now, in many areas, being pushed to breaking point. Government must commit to the life chances of children and young people by acting urgently to address the growing funding gap.”
COUNCILS 'RUNNING OUT OF OPTIONS'
Shadow Communities Secretary Andrew Gwynne said the findings exposed “very serious disparities” in councils’ resources from “every part of the country”.
“Councils have worked hard to make savings, but they are running out of options,” he said.
“We all want every single child, no matter their geography or family situation, to receive the best care and protection when needed, but right now, that is not happening.
“This is yet another sign of the government’s misplaced priorities - they can find a £1 billion bung for the DUP to stay in the job but are failing to provide the funding children’s services desperately need.”
A spokesperson from the Department for Education said an additional £200bn of funding for councils would allow them to “plan ahead with certainty”.
“Every single child should receive the same high quality care, support and protection, no matter where they live,” they said.
They added: “Councils are doing excellent work, spending more nearly £8bn in total last year on children’s social care, but we want to help them make sure they do even more.
“That’s why we set up the our £200m Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme to help them develop new and better ways of delivering these services.”