Spring Statement: Pressing pause on fixing the crisis in children’s services

Posted by Imran Hussain / Wednesday 13 March 2019 / Children's rights Government spending

A Spring Statement sandwiched by momentous Brexit votes was never likely to make big headlines or cheer campaigners. Nonetheless, the Chancellor’s short speech still managed to disappoint many across the children’s sector.

Councils and charities have been making it clear for some time that children’s services are struggling under the weight of rising demand, higher costs, and deep and sustained funding cuts. The Spring Statement talked about investing in public services but said nothing about this growing crisis.

Just a fortnight ago, Action for Children and other leading charities – Barnardo’s, The Children’s Society, NCB and the NSPCC produced analysis showing that central government funding for council-run children’s services has been cut by a third since 2010.  Services like those protecting children from abuse or neglect, helping mothers struggling with post-natal depression or families struggling to put food on the table.

Today’s Spring Statement is another wasted opportunity for the Government to get to grips with the very real crisis facing children’s services which play a critical role in keeping our children safe from neglect, abuse and harm. Nor is there anything to address the unjustifiable freeze in benefit levels, a key driver of child poverty.

The Chancellor did announce two giveaways affecting young people.

First, the setting up of a national scheme in England to provide free sanitary products to girls in secondary schools from the 2019/20 academic year onwards.

Second, a £100m emergency package to tackle knife crime. The details of this fund are unclear, but it seems it is aimed at paying for police overtime in hotspot areas. Gloomier campaigners will probably be concerned that this may reflect a ministerial willingness for quick fixes and headlines, or dealing with the symptoms, rather than a laser-like focus on the root causes of such crime. After all, a smart and sustainable approach would recognise children’s and youth services play a crucial role in stepping in early to prevent family breakdown which can eventually lead young people into problems such as gangs.

More optimistic campaigners may be encouraged by the Chancellor’s next sentence in which he said that, ahead of this autumn’s three year spending review, the Home Secretary would work with the police to consider a ‘lasting solution’ to the problem of serious violence and knife crime.  If that is a route into talking about long term investment for children’s services, especially early help services, then that would be very welcome.

But those who cast a realistic eye on the outlook for children’s services know that time is running out – services are at breaking point and children aren’t getting the help they need. And the problem is getting worse as Brexit overshadows everything else.

Leave or Remain, none of us should allow the Government to keep pressing the pause button before it turns its attention to supporting the UK’s most vulnerable children. Ministers need to act now or our children will continue to pay the price.