Since the chancellor postponed the Spending Review and confirmed a further one-year settlement, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) has been calling on the Treasury to seize this opportunity to reboot how we view, support and invest in children and young people’s lives and their futures. Put simply, investing at the earliest possible stage prevents future costs as well as misery and harm; it is the right thing to do.
This forthcoming autumn Budget will take place against a very different backdrop to any other; every aspect of our lives and all public services have been profoundly affected by the pandemic, not to mention the increasingly uncertain economic outlook. If more attention and, crucially, sufficient resources are not focused on ensuring the conditions are in place so that children, young people and their families can thrive – not just survive in the wake of the pandemic – then the financial and human costs will be felt for many years to come.
Since 2010 funding for local authorities has halved, and in children’s services our spending on early support services such as children’s centres and family support workers, has suffered as a result. Now we are now facing huge losses in income and growing cost pressures due to COVID-19. The emergency grants from Government have helped but what we desperately need is certainty and financial stability to help our communities through the pandemic.
As an association, we recently made our first submission to the Spending Review calling for, among other things, an unprecedented level of investment in children’s services to sustain provision and respond to the impact of the pandemic on vulnerable children, young people and their families. ADCS estimates at least £12.3bn will be needed over what would have been the Spending Review period (2021/22-2024/25). We recognise this is a substantial sum, but the time has come to invest more than just the bare minimum in our children. It will save the public purse money in the long run.
Going forward, it is vital that funding mirrors the level of need in our communities and that the Government commits to a systematic approach to prevention in recognition that spending now is better than spending when crisis hits later.
We need an equitable and long-term financial settlement, one that enables investment in early help services because if we miss the window of opportunity, our children will pay the price.
Jenny Coles is president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services 2020/21 and director of children’s services at Hertfordshire CC