PM hopefuls should pledge finance to mend broken childhoods

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, has argued for the next Prime Minister to put the billions they have promised for income and corporation tax cuts towards mending broken childhoods.

Arguing that Boris Johnson’s income tax plans and Jeremy Hunt’s corporation tax plans should instead be used to invest up to £10 billion a year as part of a ten-year plan to rebuild services for the most vulnerable children and end high-cost, crisis-led provision.

Launcing her third annual Vulnerability Report, Longfield estimates that there are 2.3 million children in England growing up with a vulnerable family background, including those with parents with mental illnesses, addiction problems or domestic violence. Of these, 1.6 million receive either patchy or no support at all, including 830,000 children who are ‘invisible’ to services. Approximately 128,000 children from a vulnerable family background are receiving the most intensive forms of statutory support, such as being in care or on a child protection plan.

Many of these children start school significantly below the expected level of development, and their progress tends to be lower on average, meaning that they have a higher risk of leaving school without qualifications. In addition, they are more likely to have Special Educational Needs and mental health issues, which can also make them more susceptible to gang violence or exploitation.

The vulnerability reports are published alongside new data on spending on vulnerable children, showing a system that is spending increasingly high amounts on a very small number of children with acute needs: 25 per cent of the amount councils spend on children now goes on the 1.1 per cent of children who need acute and specialist services – such as children in care. In one local authority looked at by the Children’s Commissioner, ten children are costing 20 per cent of the entire children’s services budget.

Longfield said: “Tackling the scale of the problem will require strong leadership from centraI government, capital investment in institutions to help our most vulnerable children, a 10-20 year investment in family and child support, commitments and targets to identify and support children’s mental health needs and those of their parents.

“I want to challenge the contenders for the Conservative leadership and the keys to No 10 what they intend to do about this. I’ve heard them talk about runways, immigration, Islamophobia, even model buses – but not about children. They should. Anybody’s child can need a SEND assessment; or some mental health support; or speech and language therapy. And anybody’s child can meet, on the streets or in the park, a marginalised, angry, excluded teenager carrying a knife.

“I’ve heard contenders for the Conservative leadership pledge corporation tax cuts amounting to £13 billion, higher NI thresholds costing £11 billion, a raised threshold for the higher income tax rate which would cost £9 billion. Labour’s promise to abolish tuition fees will cost around £8 billion – but where is the promise to the children who might hope that one day they too will go to university? Without the kind of help I’m proposing today, millions of them have very little chance of getting there.

“All of this is money that could be spent on getting millions of children back on their feet and boosting their life chances. Our initial calculation suggests it might cost in the region of £10 billion per year to fix this broken system. It might be more, it might be less, but what I do believe is it’ll save money in the long term. The cost of social chaos is immense. So I want to throw down the gauntlet today to whoever is next Prime Minister, and to the Opposition parties as they prepare general election manifestos and ask: what are you going to do about this?”

Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Councils want to see all children, no matter their background, achieving their potential and being given the best opportunities to give them the best start in life. The Children’s Commissioner is absolutely right that investment in our most vulnerable children is vital.

“Early intervention services such as children’s centres and family support services play a crucial role in supporting children and helping to prevent problems becoming more serious later on.

“However as the LGA and the sector have long warned, children’s services are at a tipping point as a result of increasingly high levels of demand for support and cuts in central government funding. Without more investment, councils will find it increasingly difficult to give children and families the support they need to thrive.

“This is why it is essential that government uses the forthcoming Spending Review to address the £3.1 billion shortfall in children’s services by 2025.”

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