Postcode lottery for children’s mental health services

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, has revealed that more than a third of local areas in England have reduced real terms spending on low level children’s mental health services.

In a new report looking at the amount spent on low-level mental health support for children in England, the Children’s Commissioner found that local areas, which included both local authorities and NHS spending, allocated a total of £226 million for low-level mental health services in 2018/19, just over £14 per child.

The report shows there were wide variations between areas in how much funding is available: the top 25 per cent of local areas spent at least £1.1 million or more, while the bottom 25 per cent spent £180,000 or less - marking an untimely ‘postcode lottery’. Given the focus on improving access to children’s mental health, reductions in spending are concerning.

The NHS Long Term plan, published in January, revealed that less than a third of children with a mental health problem are accessing treatment and support. This figure has improved since only a quarter of children were seen in 2015/16, and more money is being spent on children’s mental health services than in the past, with new targets set.

Longfield said: “This report reveals for the first time the postcode lottery facing the increasing number of children suffering from low-level mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. It is extremely worrying that a third of local areas in England are actually reducing real terms spending on these vital services.

“The NHS Ten Year Plan has made children’s mental health a top priority, but it won’t succeed unless children with low-level mental health problems are offered help quickly and early. Local authorities are under huge financial pressure and many are doing a good job, but those who are spending barely anything on low-level mental health cannot continue to leave children to struggle alone.”

Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Significant funding pressures mean many councils are being forced to cut some of the vital early intervention services which can support children with low level mental health issues and avoid more serious problems in later life.

“Children’s services face a funding gap of £3.1 billion by 2025 while public health services, which also help children get the best start in life, have seen cuts of £700 million. If we are to improve provision of preventative and early intervention services then it is vital the Government adequately funds these in the forthcoming Spending Review.

“But we also need the NHS to work more effectively with councils. In addition, the Government promised £1.7 billion for children’s mental health, and it should make certain that all of this is received by children’s mental health services, and not diverted elsewhere. Where it has been spent on other services, government should make up the shortfall.”

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