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Half of children’s budget spent on 73,000 children in care

Almost three quarters of children’s services budgets are spent on those in severe need, a report published today has revealed.

According to the research carried out by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) for the Children’s Commissioner for England ahead of next year’s Spending Review, the overall level of public spending on children has been maintained over the last 20 years, but almost half of the entire £8.6bn children’s budget is now spent on 73,000 children in the care system.

As a result, 11.7 million children are covered by the remaining half of the budget.

However, in recent years there has been a significant reorientation of spending towards statutory help for children in crisis, while overall children’s services spending has been largely frozen since 2009-10.

Consequently, spending on preventative support, such as Sure Start and young people’s services, has been cut by around 60% in real terms between 2009-10 and 2016-17.

Last year, spending per child under 18 was £10,000 – 42% higher than in 2000-01 in real terms, but 10% lower than its high point of £11,300 in 2010-11.

Spending per head for local authority-delivered services increased rapidly over the 2000s, doubling in real-terms from £430 to £860 per child, but according to the report this is due to top back down by 20% between 2009-10 and 2019-20, taking it back to the levels of 2005-06.

Education spending increased considerably during the 2000s, but the research reveals that this disguises cuts to funding for 16-18 education of around 17% between 2009-10 and 2019-20, meaning that in real terms, sixth form and further education spending per student will be at the same level in 2019-20 as it was in 1989-90.

Responding to the findings, Anne Longfield, children’s commissioner for England, said: “This analysis shows that while overall public spending on children has been broadly maintained over the last twenty years, millions of vulnerable children who are not entitled to statutory support will be missing out because of the huge cost of helping a small number of children who are in crisis.”

Longfield hopes that the analysis will help to move the debate on from being about the amount of money spent on children to how it is spent.

“Next year’s Spending Review offers an opportunity to step in and support these children falling through the gaps, avoiding government silos and designing cross-departmental services built around a clear identification of the unmet needs of kids.

“Spending allocations should be seen through the prism of the child, not the prism of which bit of Whitehall thinks it can spend it best,” she explained.

Cllr Richard Watts, chair of the LGA’s children and young people board, said: “The LGA has warned for some time that the current situation facing children’s services is unsustainable. Last year saw the biggest annual increase in children in care numbers since 2010, and councils are now starting more than 500 child protection investigations every day on average.”

He warned that the report “paints a stark picture of the reality facing councils.” who are forced to take difficult decisions, cutting back on early intervention services, which aim to stop children entering the care system.


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