A joint report published today by Action for Children, the Children’s Society and the National Children’s Bureau predicts that funding for early support services will have been cut from £3.2 billion in 2010 to less than £1 billion in 2020.
‘Losing in the long run’ examines the funding from central Government given to local authorities for these services and questions their sustainability.
A survey of 500 local authority councillors by the charities finds that despite strong support for early intervention services many councils are unsure as to whether they can keep them running.
While 87 per cent of councillors agreed that early intervention and family services are a high priority in their area, 59 per cent of them said they are worried that a reduction in central Government funding will lead to a reduction in local services.
These include children’s centres, short breaks for disabled children and family support services.
Moreover, although councils will start to be able to use the money collected from business rates to pay for services in future, 59 per cent say that they are concerned that it will not be possible to keep the current level of funding for early intervention services.
The charities call on the Government to prioritise these services for children and families, because they improve lives and prevent costlier solutions in the long run.
Kate Mulley, director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, said, ‘Governments have hacked away at the budget for early help, and we are set to see further reductions, which is simply short-sighted. Intervening when a crisis occurs instead of working at an early stage to prevent it from happening, has a devastating cost both in social and financial terms.
‘The Government has committed to improving children’s life chances, in particular, giving the most disadvantaged children the start they need. This report raises questions about how this objective will be achieved and whether local authorities will have the capacity to invest in services for children, young people and parents.’
Anna Feuchtwang, chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau said, ‘There is widespread support for stepping in to help children and families at an early stage – this approach improves children’s lives and saves money in the long term. Unfortunately, in practice early intervention services simply have the rug pulled from under their feet – with Government providing only a fraction of the funding it has in previous years.
‘Before making further cuts we urge the Government to consider the long term decline in how we support these services and in turn the severe consequences it has for the children and families that rely on them.’
Peter Grigg, external affairs director at The Children’s Society, said, ‘This and previous Governments have claimed to be committed to the concept of early intervention, yet our analysis makes clear that this rhetoric is not matched by investment in the very services that can prevent future spending on picking up the pieces. In presiding over a cut this huge the Government is risking the future of early intervention as we know it.’
Councillor Richard Watts, vice chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said that councils recognised the importance of preventative services and ‘have strived to keep funding reductions as low as possible despite a 55 per cent cut in early intervention funding from central government since 2010/11.
‘Early intervention work with children and their families can help to limit the need for children to enter the care system, lay the groundwork for improved performance at school and help avoid mental health issues in later life.'
But he said that the significant increase in demand for high end child protection services over recent years has placed a considerable strain on children’s social care services, forcing councils to make difficult choices when deciding how to allocate their increasingly scarce resources.
He called for urgent reform on how funding is allocated across the range of early intervention services to encourage joint working and savings and avoid duplication.
‘This will allow councils to further build support around the needs of families and shift the emphasis from crisis spending towards longer term prevention services,’ he said.
Commenting on the report, Carey Oppenheim, chief executive of the Early Intervention Foundation, said the Government spent almost £17 billion a year fixing social problems affecting children and young people.
‘It is vital that we stop them happening in the first place. Government needs to recognise that investing in early intervention will not only improve the lives of families and children, but will help them balance the nation’s books.’
She added, ‘Investing in effective and timely early intervention must never become a luxury. The human cost, anguish and wasted potential of failing to intervene early can last a lifetime and into the next generation.
‘If families and children are supported earlier, fewer children will need to be taken into care, be excluded from school, develop mental health problems or commit crimes. More will nurture the skills they need to cope with life’s challenges and fulfil their potential.
‘Yet our public services remain increasingly geared towards picking up the pieces from the harmful and costly consequences of failure.’