Cross-party Lords urge ministers to reverse cuts to early years services

Katy Morton
Friday, November 19, 2021

A House of Lords committee are calling for the Government to restore funding for early years services and youth support to 2010 levels to protect vulnerable children.

The cross-party committee of Lords want the Government to revert back to 2010 levels of spending on early years services PHOTO Adobe Stock
The cross-party committee of Lords want the Government to revert back to 2010 levels of spending on early years services PHOTO Adobe Stock

The House of Lords’ Public Services Committee says that more than a million vulnerable children are being ‘damaged’ and their life chances reduced by cuts to early years and youth support since 2010, which they want reversed.

A new report from the committee, published today (19 November), finds that lack of investment in protecting children at risk of serious harm has been felt ‘disproportionately’ in the most deprived areas. This has resulted in worse life chances for children, bigger bills for taxpayers and more pressure on social services.

The committee wants Government to pledge to return to higher 2010 levels of investment in early help services to support children and families. It is also calling for ministers to urgently set out a national cross-Government funded strategy with a plan for a nationwide roll-out of Family Hubs at its heart.

The Committee goes on to argue that the commitment in the Spending Review to fund a small number of Family Hubs in half of local authority areas ‘will not compensate for the closure of children’s centres and falls far short of the vision set out in Dame Andrea Leadsom’s Early Years review.’

Children in crisis: the role of public services in overcoming child vulnerability’ finds:

  • Spending on early intervention support between 2010 and 2019 fell the most in areas of England with the highest levels of child poverty.
  • Walsall, which has some of the highest levels of deprivation anywhere in the country, saw spending on services fall by 81 per cent over the decade.
  • In Surrey, which has lower levels of deprivation, overall spend on early intervention children’s services fell by 10 per cent over the same period.
  • A small number of local authorities with low deprivation, such as Buckinghamshire, increased spending on early intervention.
  • Half of the 200 public service professionals surveyed said they had seen a rise in the number of children and families requesting help with mental ill health, domestic violence and addiction problems since the start of the pandemic.

While the committee says that a Government pledge to spend £492 million on early help services over the next three years is ‘welcome’, after a decade of underinvestment, it will not repair the ‘creaking public services infrastructure’ on which vulnerable children rely or make up for the £1.7 billion-a-year cuts to council services such as Sure Start centres and family support since 2010.’

'Government needs to commit to a national roll-out of Family Hubs'

Baroness Armstrong, chair of the committee, said, ‘We face a crisis in child vulnerability which needs urgent action.

‘Too often public services can’t help children before it’s too late. Too many children fall through the gaps, go into care, are excluded from school or end up in prison - all of which costs the public purse more in the long run. 

‘We’re pleased that the Government is supporting some areas to develop Family Hubs, but it now needs to commit to a national roll-out with the most deprived communities given priority to help vulnerable children and their parents. Effective early intervention services could reduce the role of the state in family life by supporting parents to meet their children's needs.

‘The Government talks a lot about “levelling up” so to start with it should restore funding for early intervention to 2010 levels and ministers must match their stated ambition on child vulnerability with urgent action to improve the life chances of disadvantaged children.’

Dr Jo Casebourne, chief executive of the Early Intervention Foundation, said, 'We also agree the roll out of Family Hubs is important. It’s important that local areas are supported to deliver the services most likely to make a difference and we must keep evaluating what works and use evidence effectively. This is why the National Centre for Family Hubs is so important.'

Tulip Siddiq MP, Labour’s shadow minister for children and early years, added, 'This report demonstrates how a decade of Conservative cuts to Sure Start and family services have had a devasting impact on the lives of vulnerable children.

'The Government’s meagre support for Family Hubs will not make up for the loss of over a thousand Children’s Centres since 2010.

'Ministers must now recognise the damage their neglect has done and heed this call to prioritise children and families.'

A Government spokesperson said, 'We’re prioritising the wellbeing and safety of children, which is why we announced significant additional investment in services for families at the Spending Review.

'This includes help for those facing multiple challenges who need support to stay together safely, and investment to create networks of Family Hubs so parents can access important services for them and their children, such as infant and perinatal mental health, breastfeeding support, and parenting programmes.

'We’re also providing the largest mental health funding in NHS history, alongside our Mental Health Recovery Plan, and support to improve mental health in schools. In addition, we have provided more than £28 million to domestic abuse organisations to keep helplines and vital services running.'

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