Council cuts could mean more children in need let down

Slashed budgets mean local authorities will find it difficult to cope with demands from young people

August is usually the middle of the media’s ‘silly season’ between Parliament breaking up for the summer holiday and the party conferences in September.

But just because MPs are taking a few weeks off, it doesn’t mean that serious stuff stops happening out in the real world.

On the streets, in workplaces, in communities up and down the country, real people still have real needs that need to be met.

And one story of recent weeks shows that to perfection.

The papers and news sites, broadcasters and bloggers, have all been talking about the collapse of south London-based children’s charity Kids’ Company.

But while the media has focused on its highly visible growth and implosion, that has been a diversion from the real story of how our children and young people are being let down.

A real catastrophe has been building for years in local government. Billions of pounds of cuts mean that few councils can cope with demands from young people.

The Tories first got into government in May 2010. Since then, while ministers have been stepping in to make sure favoured charities got millions in grants, councils – who have a statutory duty to look after children – have lost £12.5bn in funds in England alone.

At the end of March last year, 68,840 children were being looked after by councils. In March 2010, that figure was 64,470. The year before, it had been 60,900.

Council budgets say they’ll be spending £3.364bn on children who need vital public services. But it might be more … in 2013/14 they had to spend half a billion more than budgeted.

And those figures only apply to England, whose councils answer directly to Whitehall.

The number of children who need support – and the cost of the support they need – is much bigger when we include the devolved nations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

If things carry on like this, the increasing cost of meeting more need is going to hit the falling amount of money available with a crash. And something will break.

Without central government making enough money available to councils so they can look after more children in need, the budget pressure can only mean bigger cuts in other vital council services.