English councils need £2.7bn more in funding for children social care by 2024-25, the Local Government Association (LGA) has warned, ahead of the government’s spending review this week.
The LGA estimates that costs in children’s social care in England will need to increase from £10.9bn in 2021-22 to £11.4bn in 2022-23; £12.1bn in 2023-24; and £12.6bn in 2024-25 –a 16% cent rise over the three-year period.
It called on government to meet this by increasing funding for children’s social care by £600m for each year of the spending review period, 2022-25, as well as provide an extra £1bn to fund existing pressures on the service.
The LGA also urged the government to implement a cross-Whitehall strategy to support children, young people and their families.
The LGA said the number of looked-after children has risen from 64,470 children in care in 2009-10, or 57 in every 100,000, to 80,080 or 67 in every 100,000 in 2019-20.
It quoted figures from the National Audit Office that councils’ spending on preventive services fell from 41% of their children’s services budgets on average in 2010-11 to 25% in 2017-18.
Currently, referral levels to children’s social care remain lower than the historical average, but the LGA says that those that were coming through were, anecdotally, more complex, which it was concerned could indicate “ongoing hidden harm that may not be identified for some time yet”.
Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the LGA’s children and young people board, said councils had diverted funds from other areas to children’s services but that they were still overspending due to “soaring demand for support which is likely to increase further as the long-term impacts of the pandemic become clearer”.
She said the end of Covid-related support and the temporary £20 Universal Credit uplift, as well as rising fuel and food costs, could add pressures to low-income families and therefore potentially increase demand on children’s social services, which was “already unsustainable”.
“Councils want to work with government to prioritise a child-centred recovery plan which ensures no child is left behind as we recover from the pandemic,” she said.
“This must include fully funding children’s services so councils can protect children at risk of harm by providing the early intervention and prevention support that can stop children and families reaching crisis point in the first place.”
What has happened to council budgets?
Local government ‘spending power’ – the amount the government calculates councils have available to spend – fell from 2010-11 to 2016-17 in real terms, chiefly due to central government cuts, before stabilising thereafter up to 2020-21, according to the National Audit Office.
In its one-year spending review last year, the government said that spending power was due to rise by 4.5% in cash terms in 2021-22 though this was reliant on councils with social care responsibilities increasing council tax by 5%. Taking into account inflation, this would be a rise of 2% to 3%.
However, this does not take into account rising levels of need, which councils have reported over the past decade in social care, due to demographic pressures in adults’ services and increases in all levels of statutory intervention in children’s services. Also, it does account for the additional costs, and reduced income, for councils due to Covid, which government has funded separately though council leaders have claimed this has not been sufficient.
‘Glimmer of hope’
The Treasury is set to announce a £500m package for children and families in the spending review on Wednesday, including the creation of family hubs in 75 upper-tier local authority areas (source: The Guardian).
Around £200m of the total package will be invested in the government’s Supporting Families programme, which assigns families with a dedicated key worker to support them through complex issues that could lead to family breakdown.
About £82m will be allocated for the hubs, £100m will be spent on mental health support for new and expectant parents and around £120 million investment towards other comprehensive family support programmes.
The chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “I passionately believe that we have a duty to give young families and their children the best possible start in life.
“We know that the first thousand and one days of a child’s life are some of the most important in their development – which is why I’m thrilled that this investment will guarantee that thousands of families across England are given support to lead healthy and happy lives.”
Anna Feuchtwang, chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau, said the proposals trailed on Saturday offered a “glimmer of hope” for children and families.
She said the investment “will undoubtably make a difference to many families” but said that sustained improvement in local authority budgets was needed to ensure existing legal entitlements can be met and children’s rights upheld.
“Investment is still urgently needed in health visiting, childcare and early education, children’s social care, and support for disabled children,” she said.
And she called on Sunak to reinstate the £20 increase to Universal Credit, the removal of which, she said, “directly undermines” the £500m investment.