So many mouths to feed

genuine believers in social welfare would take issue with the principles
underlying the comprehensive spending review, the outcome of which was announced
by chancellor Gordon Brown this week. More money for Sure Start, more money for
the Children’s Fund, and more money for the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund were
just some of the components of the £61bn increase in annual spending on public
services promised by 2005-6. The 6 per cent annual increase in education
spending matched that already promised for social services in the April budget,
and will be accompanied by an even more emphatic government focus on child care

Brown unveiled a £1.5bn combined budget for
child care, early years education and Sure Start, and promised that local
authorities would be given more funding and greater responsibility for the
delivery of child care services. Special grants will be awarded to ambitious
councils which meet "stretching targets" set out in local public
service agreements. While the spending review heralds a much needed expansion
of Sure Start, it also offers social services departments a way to make their
mark on the social inclusion agenda by developing preventive work with children
and families which has been worn away by years of concentration on child

It hardly needs to be said that there were
strings attached. The chancellor also made it clear that the rewards offered
with one hand will be snatched away with the other where public service
providers are deemed to have failed. Yet all of these new proposals are riding
on the chancellor’s luck. As this week’s strike over pay by council workers
demonstrates, there are enormous pressures in the public sector for more money
to do what it is supposed to do already. Recruitment and retention of staff,
fee levels for contracted out services, and the bed-blocking crisis each have a
claim on funding which could easily fuel runaway public sector inflation, and
there are many other mouths to feed too. All of these claims are just, but they
will not always help the chancellor to meet his objectives.

In two years’ time, when the proposed
Commission for Social Care Inspection begins reporting to parliament on how
social care resources are being used, it should be clear whether the
chancellor’s gamble has paid off. If it does, great. If it does not, it is to
be hoped that councils do not pay the price as "failing


week saw the announcement of new measures to monitor asylum-seeking children
who have no leave to remain in the country. The Home Office has said social
workers should be preparing young people in this predicament for a return to
their country of origin rather than leaving them to be picked up off the

It is ironic that while young people leaving
the care of local authorities can now expect support up until the age of 21,
those who arrive seeking asylum are denied any specific services if the Home Office
rules they do not fulfil the necessary requirements.

It appears there is one rule for vulnerable
children already in the care system and another for those seeking asylum. Yet
they are all vulnerable children. To leave your country of origin and travel
alone to a new place where you know nobody is a terrifying experience. What you
need at the end of the journey is support, not Big Brother watching your every
move on the assumption that you are going to bypass the immigration rules.

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