SAVAGE spending cuts have led to wholesale closure of local-authority services designed to prevent children’s falling into crisis, a new study by three children’s charities has warned.
Services such as teenage-pregnancy support, respite for disabled children, and parenting classes are among the “early intervention” programmes that have closed, owing to the pressure of central-government spending cuts of £2.4 billion to local authorities.
Children were now able to get help only when they reach crisis point, the three charities — the Children’s Society, Action for Children, and the National Children’s Bureau — said.
Their report, Turning the Tide, which was published this month, says that local authorities are now forced to direct all their funding into “firefighting” crisis cases, which are much more expensive to manage.
Council spending on early-help services fell by 40 per cent between 2010/11 and 2015/16. Yet, over the same five-year period of funding cuts, the demand for crisis help has risen by more than 100 per cent for some services, such as children’s social care, and councils have been forced to divert more money into late intervention or firefighting.
Spending on children’s services in the most deprived areas has been cut the most, by about 23 per cent the study shows, up to six times more than cuts in wealthier areas, underscoring claims from the charities that the poorest families are suffering the most from the Government’s austerity cuts.
The chief executive of Action for Children, Sir Tony Hawkhead, said: “Crippling central-government funding cuts have left local authorities with no option but to close early-help services designed to stop signs of abuse and neglect and move to a crisis firefighting model.
“Leaving local authorities without the necessary resources to help children and families at an early stage has a devastating cost, both in social and financial terms.”
The chief executive of the Children’s Society, Matthew Reed, said that the cuts were “nothing short of devastating”.
“Services that could intervene early to stop problems from escalating have been the hardest hit. Councils are being denied the funding they need to provide safe, effective children’s services, and spending on vital support is collapsing as a result. We are at a tipping-point, with more cuts yet to come. The Government must step up and give councils the funds they need to protect our children.”
A government spokesman said: “Councils have a duty to provide appropriate care for the children in their area, including responding to referrals. We are supporting them to deliver efficient services by investing £200 million in the children’s social care innovation programme — this includes providing targeted support for children in need.”