The average number of looked after children in England per 10,000 increased from 54 in 2009 to 64 in 2018 – an 18.5% rise.
For the North East, the growth has been even greater – 55.7% – with 18% of this from 2016 to 2018. The latest figures for 2019 increased yet further by another 8% from the 2009 base – proving demand continues to go up.
It’s difficult to judge what the new normal level of demand will be as external factors continue to grow. Changing support from partners such as schools, police, health and mental health; increased direction from the courts; higher achievement targets from Ofsted; continued austerity resulting in reduced spend on preventative services such as Sure Start and public health have all contributed to the increased demand in varying ways. However, the single biggest driver would seem to be changes in welfare reform and particularly the introduction of Universal Credit (UC) of which Newcastle has been at the forefront.
So far 50% of those eligible to transfer to UC have done so. Currently further transition to UC results from a change of circumstances and, as such, a steady stream of people transfer. At these levels we can help manage and support the transition with only a small, but significant, number falling into crisis and requiring emergency interventions. Should the Government proceed with a mass migration over to UC then it is difficult to see how the system could deal with the numbers who could quickly fall into crisis.
Other areas of the country have smaller populations who have moved to UC. A mass migration could have big impact across the system. It is vital that the Department for Work and Pensions does a full and honest evaluation of the impact of migration, particularly on children’s and homeless services.
The chancellor’s news that there will be more resources for children’s services in 2020/21 is welcome but I fear not sufficient to meet current level of demands or the growth still to come.
Tony Kirkham is director of resources at Newcastle City Council