A report published today by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee has called for a funding increase of a minimum of £3.1 billion until 2025 to reflect the challenges facing local authorities in delivering children’s social care.
In the report, released ahead of the 2019 spending review, the committee also requested that increased funding go hand-in-hand with systemic change if local authority children’s services are to be sustainable in the long-term.
While local authorities are responding to financial and service pressures by prioritising child protection work and reducing spending on non-statutory children’s services, the majority are still overspending their annual budgets, the report found.
The committee added that more understanding is needed of the factors driving increasing demand for children’s services, the barriers to creating greater residential care placement capacity, and the pressures facing social workers and the wider care workforce.
Other recommendations included:
- The Government must announce a successor to the Troubled Families Programme to provide local authorities with certainty over funding streams beyond 2020.
- The Home Office should provide a day rate payment, equal to that of unaccompanied asylum seeking children, to enable local authorities to better support children in families with no recourse to public funds.
- The day rate payment for unaccompanied asylum seeking children should be increased.
- The Government should consider whether it can reduce demand for children’s social services, with the number of looked after children having increased from 59,400 to 75,420 between 2008 and 2018.
- The Competition and Markets Authority should investigate the children’s care market to ensure costs do not rise disproportionally and there is appropriate competition.
- A review of the commissioning and procurement system for children’s residential care should be conducted by December 2019.
Clive Betts, chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, said, ‘Over the last decade we have seen a steady increase in the number of children needing support, whilst at the same time funding has failed to keep up.
‘It is clear that this approach cannot be sustained, and the Government must make serious financial and systemic changes to support local authorities in helping vulnerable children. They must understand why demand is increasing and whether it can be reduced. They must ensure that the funding formula actually allows local authorities to meet the obligations for supporting children that the Government places on them.
‘We have reached a crisis point and action is needed now.’
Sam Royston, director of policy and research at The Children’s Society, commented, ‘Vulnerable children face complex challenges, including everything from drug and alcohol misuse and domestic abuse, to going missing, facing mental health problems, or living in poverty as they seek to secure their right to remain in this country. Funding cuts mean that too often councils are left firefighting emergencies with costly and undesirable interventions like care placements.
‘It is absolutely essential the Government listens by investing at least £3bn in children’s services through the upcoming spending review and reforming children’s services to ensure children and families receive early help before problems reach crisis point.’
Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, added, ‘We cannot just continue to cross our fingers and hope that vulnerable children will be alright, and this report must be a final wake up call to the Government. This year’s Spending Review is the moment to act. Ministers must accept that children’s services are in desperate need of funding to improve what they offer children, rather than just stand still or go backwards, and that some failing authorities need more help.’