Doreen Massey on funding cuts to services supporting children and young people – and the need for a new national strategy
Given current concerns about child poverty and the levels of funding going to services for children and young people, it is perhaps timely that I am leading a debate on the issue in the Lords this week.
While adequate legislation should support children and young adults, local authorities must have appropriate funding to ensure delivery of high quality and targeted interventions in their areas of responsibility. It is concerning therefore, that overall spending power of councils has fallen significantly since 2010, at a time when demand for services has increased.
Children come from a variety of backgrounds and are influenced in their development by many factors – family, peer group, ethnicity, faith, culture, health, ability and disability. But other influences come from the contact they have with agencies in their local communities – via, for example, child care, health and education, and possibly social services and the police.
Early intervention is important if children are to become healthy, resilient and well-adjusted. But such systems of support for parents, families and, perhaps most importantly, vulnerable children are variable depending on locality and provision.
A recent report from the Children’s Commissioner suggests only a fraction of these young people are getting the help they need – a third of the 2.32 million who live in households with significant risk factors. It is suggested that around £10bn a year is needed to address the situation by 2025.
The past ten years has seen the closure of almost 600 Sure Start Centres and over 750 Youth Centres. And within just the first five years of the decade, over £42 million was axed from council sports and leisure services. In response, the government says it has put money into the Connections service and youth activities such as the Youth Parliament. Good, but nothing like having a local fixture where families or children can go for recreation, structured activity, support and advice.
With such diminution of community structures, as well as a lack of affordable housing and rising homelessness, we should not be surprised at the increase in gang culture and its attendant problems such as knife crimes.
Two thirds of councils have slashed funding for sexual and reproductive health services, with the Brook Advisory Centres also raising concerns about the risks to its provision. All despite Public Health England’s estimate that every £1 spent on publicly funded contraception would save the public over £9 in the next decade. Expenditure on substance misuse services has also been reduced.
While some schools are suffering in terms of equipment and upkeep, the National Education Union has also reported that special needs provision in England has lost out by £1.2bn. This relates to shortfalls in funding increases from central government whilst legal entitlement to support has risen by almost a hundred thousand in the corresponding period.
Ministers do not seem to understand or recognise that cuts to services for young people is short sighted and costly. Not just in relation to happiness and well-being but long-term savings to the public purse.
This is about local services. It is good therefore, to see that the Mayor of London has created the ‘Young Londoners Fund’ with £45 million to provide positive interventions. So far, this is helping fund 179 projects, aimed at supporting 66,000 young people in the capital.
As per usual, the voluntary sector is doing a magnificent job. Dedicated professionals are performing under increasing pressure. But we have no national overall strategy – just piecemeal approaches. Such a strategy is needed urgently and would contribute towards a comprehensive and holistic approach to improving the welfare of our children and young people.
Baroness Doreen Massey of Darwen is a Labour Peer
Published 17th July 2019