Most vulnerable children let down by government’s austerity agenda.
David Cameron’s announcement today on Child Protection policy threw into stark relief the gap between the government’s public relations based commitment to child protection services, and the harsh economic reality of huge cuts to the social work and other children’s services upon which abused children, the most vulnerable of all the UK’s citizens, depend.
An independent Financial Times report in July 2015 showed that Child Protection services in England have in fact been forced to cut spending by 8% since 2010, in direct contrast to the Government’s claim to support such services as a result of George Osborne’s austerity drive.
The biggest expenditure by local councils is now on a combination of social services, public health and welfare benefits. Despite the U-turn on tax credits, welfare spending overall will be cut by £12 billion by 2020
There remains no evidence that simply privatising Child Protection provision produces service improvement. 78 per cent of children’s homes in England & Wales are not in community hands. Yet 28 per cent of privately owned children’s homes are below a good standard, while 63 privately run homes are in the worst ‘inadequate’ category.
The Government states that it is exploring how to find ‘improvements in the market’ to provide better outcomes for children. The assumption is that the market will find the solution. There is little or no evidence to support that view.
Personal Social Services Research Unit reveal that the annual cost of placement in a private children’s home is £4000 per week, whereas local authority care costs £3000 (by comparison a foster care placement costs £637). Therefore it is extraordinary that over a quarter of private sector homes cannot provide a good level of care when they receive £50,000 a year per child.
Advanced Childcare Limited, Britain’s largest provider of children’s homes, is owned by a US private equity firm GI Partners. One third of its 130 homes in England are below a good standard.
The NSPCC report entitled ‘How Safe Are Our Children 2014’, says demand for support and intervention has been growing as more families are suffering financially, and more people are willing to identify abuse and demand action in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal. It says early intervention services which might support families to stay on track and prevent problems escalating – such as childrens’ centres or domestic violence services – have been cut back. This will store up even more costs and problems for later, it adds.
Local Government, where Social Work services are based, faces a 40 per cent real terms cut to core government funding over the life of the parliament; consistently reducing council tax referendum thresholds; £1bn cut to local council tax support funding to April 2016. Yet the local government association submission to the recent spending review states that councils have faced sharply increased demand for childrens’ social care since the Peter Connolly case in November 2008, resulting in a 22 per cent rise in referrals, a 65 per cent rise in children subject to a child protection plan and a 16 per cent increase in the number of children in care.
The clear economic case is demonstrated by independent reports from throughout the Child Protection world: continuously increasing caseloads for local government social workers at the same time as the most significant cuts to funding for vital child protection services. Instead of focussing on saving services for abused children the government is resorting to PR & spin, in order to place the profitable privatisation of children’s services at the heart of its policy.
Privatisation and profit for the shareholders of big multinationals are placed at the heart of Government policy, and the neglected and abused children that Social Workers work with every day are a clear second.