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Thousands of children at risk due to funding cuts

Thousands of children are at risk of falling through the cracks as funding available for children's services has plummeted by one third, leading charities have warned.

Analysis of official figures by Action for Children, Barnardo’s, NSPCC, The Children’s Society and the National Children’s Bureau revealed funding available for children’s services has fallen by a third per child in England since 2010.

Chief executive at Action for Children, Julie Bentley, said: “Children’s services are at breaking point and these alarming figures reveal the true scale of the devastating and dangerous funding cuts made year after year by successive governments."

The analysis has identified “kids’ cuts hotspots” across England – where local councils have faced the biggest real-term drop in this funding and London is the worst hit. Westminster tops the list with funding slashed by more than half (51%), followed by Tower Hamlets (49%), Camden (49%), Newham (46%) and Hackney (46%).

However areas such as Manchester (45% drop), Nottingham (43%) and Birmingham (43%) also made it into the country’s top twenty “kids’ cuts hotspots”.

Julie Bentley added: “Every day at Action for Children we see that children’s services can be a lifeline for families – from helping mums suffering with post-natal depression or families struggling to put food on the table, to spotting children quietly living in fear of domestic abuse or neglect.

Thousands of families across the country rely on these services to step in and stop problems spiralling out of control.

“With the number of child protection cases and children being taken into care at their highest for a decade, it’s unthinkable to continue forcing councils to make crippling cuts to services. Without urgent cash from central government, thousands more children at risk of neglect and abuse will slip through the cracks and into crisis."

The analysis warns:

- Councils are facing a £3 billion funding gap for children’s services by 2025, with many services having already been stripped back or shut down.

- Over 1,000 children’s centres have closed since 2004.

- 760 youth centres have shut since 2015.

The charities are warning that thousands more children and young people could fall into crisis if these cuts continue.

The analysis highlights that against the backdrop of cuts, many councils have sought to protect this area as best they can – with spending falling by less than the funding drop. Councils may be making up the difference by drawing on reserves or slashing spending on other areas – but the charity alliance stressed neither approach is sustainable in the long term.

ADCS president Stuart Gallimore said: “Here is yet another report illustrating the increasing pressures facing children and the services they rely on across the country. For how long will our unified calls for proper investment in children and their futures go ignored?

“There are more children in our society than ever before yet they are not being prioritised in policy decisions made in Whitehall. Since 2010, local authority budgets have been halved but the complexity and level of need in our communities has increased. As the report notes, local authorities must fund statutory child protection services where need exists but this has been at the expense of vital preventative and community services that prevent children and families’ needs from escalating, such as children’s centres, youth services and libraries. At the same time, life is getting harder for many; families are struggling to afford basic necessities; food banks are running out of supplies; schools are providing their pupils with clothes and even sanitary products, despite facing significant funding pressures of their own; and, child poverty is rising, driving further demand for our services. Correct me if I’m wrong but this doesn’t sound like a country that works for all children. Local authorities are committed to doing all we can to improve the lives of children and their families but only changes to national policy will make the difference.

“While some local authorities have benefited from small, time limited pots of ring fenced funding this is neither a sustainable nor an equitable way forward. It does nothing to meet the needs of the system as a whole. Government must go beyond rhetoric of improving children’s life chances by investing a greater share of this country’s resources in them and their futures, but in the right way. We urge government to put children at the heart of the upcoming spending review by committing to a no deficit model of funding for children’s services with early intervention at its core. Without this, the human and, financial, costs will be huge," he concluded.

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