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Councils spending more on children’s services amid cost of living crisis

Local authority expenditure on children’s services is budgeted to increase by £348 million in 2022-23.

17/08/22

Councils spending more on children’s services amid cost of living crisis

Local authority budgets for children’s social care are increasing, despite overall council budgets shrinking, according to a new report by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

Local authority net current expenditure on services is budgeted to be £108.3 billion in 2022-23, £1.6 billion (1.5%) lower in real terms than was budgeted for 2021-22, but higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Children’s services saw the largest increases in budgeted service expenditure (in real terms), jumping up £348 million (3.2%), with policing and adult social care budgets rising £363 million (2.6%) and £351 million (1.8%) respectively.

Social care, for adults and children, are large elements of council expenditure. The spending for these accounts for 18% (for adults) and 10% (for children) across all expenditure of all authorities, the report says.

Chris Munday, Chair of the ADCS Resources and Sustainability Policy Committee, said the figures highlighted the challenge to local authority directors of children’s services.

“Across England, every day the children’s workforce is seeking to meet the needs of a range of children and families, those with a disability, those requiring early help to stop issues escalating and those at risk of abuse and neglect some of whom will be in our care, for example.

“The pandemic, and the cost of living crisis, has and will continue to have significant impacts on the wellbeing of children and families. It is inevitable that this will cost money and local authorities are having to prioritise spend on children’s social care to support those who need it.

“This is challenging for local authorities who continue to make increasingly difficult decisions about many services that children and families rely on including early help and prevention services that can reduce demand for statutory child protection services.

Earlier this year, the Review of Children’s Social Care and a Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) study both found evidence of a “broken” care market and painted a picture of a sector that is under-resourced to carry out critical tasks to enable children to flourish.

“Prices are high. Limited choice means that the commissioner is often not in a good position to negotiate the best care and support for children. No single local authority can resolve these serious sufficiency issues on their own; indeed, a cross-government approach is required,” the competitions watchdog heard before delivering its final report in May this year.

The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care recommended launching new dedicated bodies – called Regional Care Cooperatives (RCCs) – to “bring an end to profiteering in the children’s social care market” and recruit thousands of new foster carers. The cooperatives are suggested to be local authority-owned regional bodies which will use their “scale and expertise” to provide a wider choice of homes for children closer to where they live.

“We urgently need a sustainable, long-term funding settlement for children’s services and government intervention into the placements market, otherwise children’s outcomes continue to be placed at risk,” Chris Munday said. “We urge the new Prime Minister to prioritise spending on children, they are our present as well as our future.”

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