More children at risk as councils forced to halve spending on early support
More vulnerable children than ever now need crisis support, after councils were forced to halve spending on services which help prevent them coming to harm.
Over the ten years between 2010/11 and 2020/21, investment in early intervention support by councils in England fell from £3.8bn to £1.9bn (50%) according to a new report commissioned by The Children’s Society, Action for Children, Barnardo’s, National Children’s Bureau and the NSPCC.
The coalition of charities says councils have struggled with the impact of funding cuts, with
many of the poorest areas hardest hit.
The research, by Pro Bono Economics, found dwindling funding for early support services –
ranging from children’s centres and youth clubs, to targeted support with issues like drug
and alcohol misuse - means families miss out on getting help early enough to stop problems spiralling out of control.
This has created a vicious cycle, where councils are forced to spend more on costly crisis
support, leaving more children and young people exposed to risks like exploitation, neglect
and mental ill-health.
Mark Russell, Chief Executive at The Children’s Society, said: “Behind these shocking
figures, which saw spending on services for young people fall by three-quarters (74%) from
£1.3bn to £300m, are children who have missed out on vital early support, many of whom
end up in care.
“Young people have told us they felt they needed to get hurt or harm someone in order be
“It’s a big concern that children in deprived areas, where needs may be greatest, are often
among those least likely to get help before problems spiral out of control.
“If ministers are serious about Levelling Up they must better target funding to the areas that
need it most. But councils everywhere have struggled amid government funding cuts and
this is why we are calling on whoever becomes the next Prime Minister to ensure children’s
services teams across the country get the extra funding they desperately need, sooner not
The report, Stopping the Spiral, found spending on crisis and late intervention services
soared by more than a third (37%) over the decade, from £6bn to £8.2bn. This was fuelled
by a 24% rise in the number of children in care to almost 80,000, costing an extra £1.3bn.
Four-fifths (80.5%) of local authority children’s social care spending went towards these
services, which are more likely to be reacting to harm and which councils have a legal
requirement to deliver, up from just 58% in 2010-11.
The analysis by Pro Bono Economics estimates that government funding available to
councils for children’s services fell by 22% from £10.4bn to £8.1bn between 2010/11 and
2020/21, with the poorest local authority areas – where children’s and families’ needs may
be greatest - often forced to make the biggest cuts to early support services. In these areas, early intervention spending per child was reduced by 61% on average, while 25% more was spent on late intervention. The West Midlands (66%) and North East (63%) faced the biggest falls in spending on early support per child over the decade, with the East Midlands (59%) and North West (54%) not far behind.
The coalition of charities are calling for the next Prime Minister to invest £2.6bn in children’s
social care, as an absolute minimum, as recommended by the Independent Review of
Children’s Social Care. They say that while investment is needed everywhere, there is a
particular need for deprived areas to be given targeted funding - with the cost of living crisis and increasing numbers of children and families experiencing poverty making this
particularly pressing. The care review recommends new investment from 2023/24, but the
charities say funding is urgently needed now to help the rising numbers of children needing
support and counter the financial crisis facing councils.
They are calling for local authorities to be awarded extra funding in the next Prime Minister’s
first Budget - including money to open more family hubs, offering vital early support for
children of all ages and their families. The children’s social care review warned that if current trends continue, 100,000 children could be in care by 2032, with costs to stretched councils rising from £10bn a year to £15bn.
Imran Hussain, Director of Policy and Campaigns at Action for Children, said: “Across
political divides there has been recognition of the value to communities and the public purse of investing in services that help individuals and families early, before more serious and more costly problems develop.
“Town halls are being placed in an impossible position by decisions made in Whitehall. The
Government has to give local authorities the resources they need to invest in preventative
services to stem the tide of children coming to harm before they’re helped.”
Josh MacAlister, chair of the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care said: “These
worrying figures support my call for a radical reset of the system to shift the focus towards
intensive earlier support for families. It’s crucial that reform comes with the investment
needed to boost support for families so that more children can grow up in loving families and that the care system can provide the same foundations.
“Tinkering at the edges while continuing to pour money into a crumbling system is
unsustainable and it’s vital that the next Prime Minister seizes this opportunity to make a
difference to the lives of children and families, now and in the future.”
Spending on children’s social care plummeted by £249m over the decade, a 2.4% fall,
despite rising numbers of vulnerable young people. Overall, councils spent on average £36
less on each young person - £580 in 2020/21, compared to £616 in 2010/11.