The first sign of budget cuts in children’s services has been heralded in the government’s pre-budget report with the Department for Children, Schools and Families told to save £350m.
The savings should come from central budgets, non-departmental public body efficiencies – affecting the Children’s Workforce Development Council, the Children’s Commissioner and family courts body Cafcass – as well as reviewing pilots and programmes to focus on the most effective interventions.
Chancellor Alistair Darling will require Ofsted and local authorities to make savings of £550m. These would fall on inspection, assessment and reporting requirements and through the introduction of measures to reduce duplication and inefficiency between different tiers of local government.
However, the report did announce extra funds to help meet government targets on ending child poverty and help more young people into work or training.
Free school meals will be extended to 500,000 more pupils with parents on low incomes, raising a further 50,000 children out of poverty, Darling told the House of Commons.
Child tax credits will be extended to 400,000 families whose income has dropped. The chancellor said the credits had made families £37 a week better off, on average.
Claiming the only way to promote growth was to invest in the skills of young people, Darling said everybody younger than 24 and out of work for more than six months would be guaranteed work or training.
The Child Poverty Action Group welcomed the extension of free school meals. “Pilots, including those in Hull, have shown them to be an effective way to lift children out of poverty,” a spokesperson said.
But Darling’s measure would not be enough to halve child poverty by next year, as the government had promised, she added.
There were also concerns that the increase in benefits was only 1.5%, given inflation was estimated to hit 3% next year.
“We’d like to see measures that ensure being in work pays for low-income families,” said the CPAG spokesperson. “Sixty per cent of the children in poverty are in working families. We are also calling for more money to be put into the tax credit and benefits system.”