Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has failed to recognise the pressures facing children’s social care services in England in his autumn statement today, sector leaders have warned.
The package included some additional support for children’s social care over the next two years, with Hunt allocating funding previously earmarked for the adult social care charging reforms for councils to invest in either service. This social care grant is worth £1.3bn in 2022-23 and £1.9bn in 2023-24.
Children’s services would also potentially benefit from the government allowing local authorities to raise council tax by 3% over the next two years without putting the rise to a local referendum, up from a previous 2% limit.
However, social care leaders warned that it failed to address the pressures they were facing, exemplified by the 2% rise in the children in care population in 2021-22 revealed today and an 8% increase in referrals to children’s social care and 10% hike in the number of child protection enquiries over the same timeframe.
The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) also warned that councils faced a funding gap of almost £800m for children’s social care in 2021-22, in a report earlier this month.
ADCS president Steve Crocker said the additional funding announced “does not come close to addressing the ever-increasing funding gap in our budgets”.
Risk of becoming ‘blue light service’
He added: “We are all seeing rising demand whilst children are presenting greater complexity of need, yet children are mentioned just four times across the entire published autumn statement. More and more families are experiencing hardship, or have reached crisis, and we know that there is a strong correlation between poverty, deprivation and involvement with children’s services.
“The impacts of the pandemic and cost of living crisis are already being felt across wider children’s services, including children’s mental health, early help and social care but we are yet to see a national commitment to address this urgent need.
“We must be ambitious for our children and families but at present we risk becoming a ‘blue light service’. Now more than ever we need to work with children and families who are at risk of poor outcomes at the earliest possible stage, but only with adequate long-term national investment can we continue to provide this vital support.”
National Children’s Bureau chief executive Anna Feuchtwang gave a similar message, saying that “with little mention of children’s social care during the Chancellor’s speech, services that help to protect vulnerable children and families have been left uncertain about how much social care funding will trickle down to them, as inflation and rising demand continues to eat into the amount of money they have available”.
‘Missed chance’ for shift to preventive services
She also said Hunt had missed a chance to shift the focus of spending from acute to preventive services.
“Whether in children’s social care, mental health services, or the SEND system, far too often spending is concentrated on the most complex and expensive services, when young people and families have already reached breaking point,” she added. This means fewer resources for preventative work and fewer early intervention services, leading to further escalation of needs and increased costs. The chancellor has missed a chance to put this right.”
This shift was a key focus of the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, whose final report in May called for a £2bn investment in early help for families over the next five years to re-engineer provision away from statutory interventions.
The Department for Education is due to respond to the review – and two other key reports on the future of children’s social care – before the end of the year, but there was no mention of this – and the associated investment required – in Hunt’s speech or the Treasury’s document on the autumn statement.