The Chancellor’s comprehensive spending review gave a
boost to those striving to improve the lot of children. Not
everyone is happy though, reports Clare
Chancellor Gordon Brown unveiled plans last week to increase
public spending from £240bn this year to £301bn by 2005-6
in his third comprehensive spending review.
The main beneficiaries will be children. On top of the 6 per
cent annual growth promised for education for the next three years,
Brown announced a £1.5bn-a-year combined budget for child
care, early years education and Sure Start to be managed by one
inter-departmental unit at the Department for Education and
Details of how the unit will work with the children and young
people’s unit, which was launched in November 2000 as part of the
government’s commitment to end child poverty and social exclusion,
have yet to be confirmed.
The new unit will he headed by Baroness Cathy Ashton, who led an
inter-departmental review of child care due to report in the
autumn. She will take on the role of minister for Sure Start, early
years and child care and, to ensure a focus on integration, will be
appointed jointly by the Department for Education and Skills and
the Department for Work and Pensions.
Ashton says: “The creation of a single unit within government
will help focus on the delivery of good quality child care, early
years education, family support and health services.
“We have learned from Sure Start how important it is to bring
together services for children and parents.”
The combined budget will help to create a network of children’s
centres in disadvantaged areas, providing health, social care and
education services for an additional 300,000 children by
Children’s charity the Daycare Trust has campaigned for the
introduction of centres and believes the move will be “a major step
towards ending the child care lottery in Britain”.
The funding will also expand Sure Start for up to 400,000
children and fund 250,000 child care places.
In addition, the children’s fund to help disadvantaged young
people and those in poverty will increase from an average
£150m a year to £200m a year between 2003-4 and
Martin Barnes, director of the Child Poverty Action Group,
applauds the extra support for child care, describing the measures
as “an imaginative package”.
He says: “Priority must be given to low-income families and the
millions of children living in poverty.”
The NSPCC welcomes the increase to the children’s fund, but
criticises the Chancellor’s failure to announce in the review a
reform of the social fund, despite pressure from children’s
The 6 per cent annual growth rate for education matches the
increases already promised to social services in the last Budget.
As the sector awaited this week’s announcement from health
secretary Alan Milburn as to how this money would be spent, there
were mixed opinions about which service users were most likely to
be the real winners from the Chancellor’s spending spree.
Roger Singleton, chief executive of Barnardo’s, warns that the
measures announced in the review fail to address the needs of
vulnerable children. “For some of our most disadvantaged children,
including those at risk of abuse and those already in the care of
local authorities, a continued lack of social care resources
represents a worrying prospect,” he says.
The charity is disappointed that the Quality Protects money, due
to end in 2003-4, was not extended in the review, particularly in
light of the Victoria Climbié Inquiry.
Scope spokesperson Caroline Cooke says although the investment
in child care and education is welcome, the charity has concerns
over whether it will benefit disabled children. She points to a
reluctance among child care providers to offer places to disabled
“We are not confident that the increase in educational budgets
will mean an increase in special educational needs budgets,” she
says, adding that there is a desperate need for occupational
therapists and speech therapists essential to “facilitate good
educational experiences for many disabled children”.
The Chancellor admitted last week that “Britain’s disabled need
and deserve a better deal”, and promptly announced that the
Disability Rights Commission budget would rise by 14 per cent in
real terms by 2006 from £13.5m.
Cooke hopes that, with no firm timescale for the proposed merger
between the DRC and equality organisations for gender and race, the
14 per cent will be ring-fenced “to ensure it is spent on
disability equality rather than subsumed in a generic equalities
budget under the single equalities commission”.
Commission chief executive Bob Niven gives the rise “a cautious
welcome”, but says more clarity is needed to establish whether it
will be enough to implement with future legislation.
Last week the government also published the second round of
public service agreements, setting out outcome targets and reforms
for each government department.
Reiterating the government’s commitment to disabled people, one
of the Department for Work and Pensions’ public service agreements
aims to “increase the employment rate of people with
Meanwhile, for the Department of Health, the Treasury has set a
new agreement to improve life outcomes of adults and children with
mental health problems by providing easier access to crisis and
child and adolescent mental health services. The government hopes
this will help to reduce the mortality rate from suicide and
undetermined injury by at least 20 per cent by 2010.
Cliff Prior, chief executive of severe mental illness charity
Rethink, says the agreement is a “more holistic target”, and more
positive and broader than the previous one which was based purely
on suicide reductions.
He also welcomes the 2002 spending review white paper,
Opportunity and Security for All, which reiterates the need to
invest in improved child and adolescent mental health services.
“To reach people early on can make a difference to long-term
mental illness,” Prior says.
Older people’s organisations, however, are not quite so happy –
despite the fact that at least some of the funding increase for
social services will be allocated to intermediate and preventive
services for older people – given the plans to introduce fines for
social services departments deemed responsible for hospital
There is also a public service agreement aimed at increasing by
March 2006 the number of older people supported intensively to live
at home to 30 per cent of the total supported by social services at
home or in residential care.
Yet the Registered Nursing Home Association says its members are
“flabbergasted” that the comprehensive spending review makes no
mention of additional resources specifically for this group.
Chief executive Frank Ursell says: “Currently the sector is on a
knife edge. If home owners now vote with their feet, all of the
aspirations of the government for the NHS will be put in
“The NHS Plan, hospital discharge planning targets and other
important health service goals will not be met, and hospitals will
need to prepare to look after more and more old people.”
A Help the Aged spokesperson adds: “If the crisis in care is to
be addressed, it needs much more funding than 6 per cent.”
The charity calls for a cost-benefit analysis to establish
funding needs of early support in preventing dependency, and for
the increased investment in the NHS to be matched in social
The spokesperson warns that social services’ budgets allocated
to older people are often raided to pay for children’s
Learning difficulty charity Mencap complains of similar
difficulties protecting funds and is wary of the 6 per cent annual
growth pledge. Director of public affairs David Congdon says: “This
extra funding is in danger of being swallowed up by services for
children or older people, meaning that yet again people with
learning difficulties will miss out.
“The white paper Valuing People set out the government’s
commitment to improving the life chances of people with learning
difficulties but, without increased funding, there is no way that
local authorities will achieve any of these aims.”
While the Chancellor’s spending review is undoubtedly good news
for children, it appears he has not quite made it on to Christmas
card lists elsewhere in the sector. It is up to the health
secretary now to do that for him by proving that he can spend
wisely the extra money he has been given for social care.