Today Labour will be challenging the government on its finance bill; arguing that the £4.7bn currently set aside for bankers is best spent protecting vulnerable children.
The last Labour government invested in early intervention because we knew how important it was. We knew that in order to give every child a fair chance to succeed, we needed to give them the best possible start in life. But seven years of funding cuts have pushed the services that we built in government – there to spot signs of abuse and neglect before children are put at risk – into a state of crisis.
Unless the government finally listens to the demands of councillors, parents and politicians of all parties, and makes a change of direction then more vulnerable children will go without the care that they need, and councils will be pushed dangerously close to the financial brink.
Central government funding to support children and their families has been cut by 55 per cent over the last seven years, at a total cost of £1.7bn. It is estimated by the Local Government Association that this funding gap will grow to £2bn by 2020, with the most-deprived councils set be be hit six times harder than the least-deprived.
As councils have a statutory requirement to protect vulnerable children, funding cuts have forced council’s to cut into other budgets to meet their legal obligations. There are already over 1,240 fewer designated Sure Start children’s centres than when the Tories took office – a fall of around 34 per cent since 2010. Councils have also been forced to cut other services, including bin collections, libraries, youth services, parenting classes, and short breaks for disabled children; but more and more are finding that there is still not enough funding to provide the bare minimum of child protection services.
Children’s charities, including Barnardo’s, the Children’s Society, Action for Children and the National Children’s Bureau, have described a “crisis” facing children’s services, highlighting that central government denying councils funding is affecting the quality of vital children’s services and failing vulnerable children as more and more children need support.
Cuts to early years intervention have meant a record number of children, some 72,000 last year, are now being taken into care. In the last year alone, 646,120 children sought out support after suffering from neglect or emotional abuse, and the NPCC warned today that 90 referrals are made per-week to local agencies over fears of sexual abuse.
This system isn’t sustainable, and there is growing concern in the local government sector (and from councillors of all parties) that the government is refusing to listen. Despite more and more children needing support; there is a fear that they will continue to be overlooked by a government that appears to be more interested in tax handouts for bankers than properly funding services to protect vulnerable children. These children deserve a life like the one that many of us took for granted.
So, today Labour will be presenting the government with a choice – to continue with the tax giveaways to the super-rich that have been the hallmark of Conservative chancellors since 2010, or to end the crisis in our children’s services. In an amendment to the finance bill, we will be urging a review of the bank levy, that will see billions handed back to the major banks in tax giveaways.
This giveaway comes at a time when bankers’ bonuses are returning rapidly to their pre-crash levels, rising nearly 10 per cent in the last year to £15bn – whilst wages and living standards for most of us have fallen.
We all want to give our vulnerable children the best start and opportunities in life – but the system needs to be properly funded and sustainable. Whilst the sector is demanding answers to its questions on funding, the cabinet appear more focused on in-fighting over Brexit, forgetting the growing crisis in cities, towns and neighbourhoods across England.
Local government desperately needs sustainable forms of funding, no longer based on arbitrary cuts on the budget of the previous year, but actually based on need – on the cost of delivering current and future services for our neighbourhoods.
This is what local government under Labour will look like – empowering our communities, not impoverishing them. As John McDonnell said last week, a Labour government will reverse these cuts and end the giveaways to the bankers – a finance system that works in the interest of the many, not the few at the very top. But the money for our children’s services needs to be delivered right now.
Andrew Gwynne is shadow communities and local government secretary and Labour’s elections chair.