Millions of children missing out on support

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Half of the £8.6bn children’s services budget in England is currently being spent on just 73,000 children, meaning millions go without support, the Children’s Commissioner has warned.

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Children's commissioner for England Anne Longfield says that vulnerable children are missing out on support because of the huge costs for children in crisis

The other half is left to cover the remaining 11.7m children, according to the report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), carried out for the Children’s Commissioner for England’s Office.

The report, ‘Public Spending on Children in England: 2000 to 2020’, warned the ‘significant’  reductions  in  spending  on  early  and  preventative  interventions  such  as  Sure  Start  and  young  people’s  services may  push  up  needs  and  costs  in  the  future. 

Spending on prevention, such as Sure Start and young people’s services. has been cut by 60 per cent over the last decade, it added.

The research, published ahead of next year’s Spending Review, found that  public spending on children overall had been broadly maintained in the last 20 years, but millions of children were missing out.

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said, ‘This analysis shows that while overall public spending on children has been broadly maintained over the last 20 years, millions of vulnerable children who are not entitled to statutory support will be missing out because of the huge cost of helping a small number of children who are in crisis.

‘While every child should receive the support they need, the economic and social costs of this current strategy are unsustainable. The cost to the state is ultimately greater than it should be and the cost to those vulnerable children missing out on support will last a lifetime.

‘Every day we are seeing the consequences of helping children too late - in pressures on the family courts system, special schools and the care system and in the spiralling numbers of school exclusions and the consequent increase in younger and younger children linked to violent street gangs.’

Other findings in the report included:

  • Education spending for ages four to 16 has been broadly sustained in the last 20 years, but sixth form and further education spending per student is set to sink to the same level as 30 years ago by 2020
  • Despite limited data on health spending on children, estimates suggests this too has remained broadly stable, at around £800 per child
  • Spending per head on local authority-delivered children’s services doubled over the 2000s to about £860 per child. However, it is set to fall by around 20 per cent between 2009–10 and 2019–20, taking it back to 2005–06 levels
  • The number of pupils in maintained special schools increased by 25 per cent between 2007 and 2017, largely due to a rise in the numbers of children with autism (up more than 50 per cent in maintained special schools between 2012 and 2017) and those with severe learning difficulties and speech, language and communication needs
  • The rate of child poverty today is roughly double the rate of pensioner poverty

Councillor Richard Watts, chair of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) children and young people board, said, ‘The LGA has warned for some time that the current situation facing children’s services is unsustainable. Last year saw the biggest annual increase in children in care numbers since 2010, and councils are now starting more than 500 child protection investigations every day on average.’

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner commented, ‘Because of the gaps in provision, too often we can only intervene when a child is in crisis, leaving millions of children without access to the support they need. This dangerous false economy is simply leading to more children who could have been protected falling in to crisis.

‘The next Labour government will invest in vital support services like Sure Start and properly fund local government to ensure that every child has the support they need to get the best start in life.’

A Government spokesperson said, 'This report recognises the Government is maintaining the amount spent on children's services, spending a record amount on education and making more than £200bn available to councils up to 2020 for local services, including those for children and young people.

'We are reviewing school exclusions to make sure they are only used as a last resort and this government has launched a new Serious Violence Strategy which puts a stronger focus on steering young people away from violence through early intervention.

'A further £200m programme is supporting councils to develop innovative ways to improve the lives of vulnerable children and families.'

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