1.Local authorities in England deliver a range of statutory and non-statutory services for children at an annual cost of around £9 billion. Demand for children’s services is increasing. At the same time, local authorities have seen their overall spending power fall significantly in real terms since 2010. Local authorities have responded to these pressures by prioritising child protection work and reducing spending on non-statutory children’s services. Despite these efforts most local authorities are still overspending their budgets on children’s social care. Financial restraint combined with seemingly ever increasing demands on the sector is leading to what we were told by Adam Pemberton from Barnardo’s was “a perfect storm”.
2.Over the course of our inquiry, we have focused on four main questions: what financial and non-financial factors are placing the most pressure on children’s services budgets; how the sustainability of the current system can be improved; the role of innovation; and what universal measures are needed to secure the long-term sustainable future for local authorities’ children’s services. The five chapters of our report reflect each of these questions. The first chapter considers the funding pressures on local authorities’ children’s services. The second chapter explores other pressures such as increasing demand, the burden of additional statutory responsibilities, unaccompanied asylum seeking children and children within families who have no recourse to public funds. The third chapter looks at the sustainability of the current system. It explores the variation in spend between councils, why demand is increasing, pressure on the workforce and the role of the independent sector. In the penultimate chapter, we consider the role of innovation. Finally, we conclude by identifying two broad areas of improvement which would benefit the entirety of local authorities’ children’s services funding.
We do not address the wider policy and legal context nor provide an overview of how children’s services work, which can be found in the recent House of Commons Library briefing Children’s social care services in England and the National Audit Office’s (NAO) Pressures on children’s social care report. A considerable number of reports and pieces of research, not least a March 2019 report by our Parliamentary colleagues, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), have also been published in recent years on some of the themes which we cover in this report. We have used much of this research to inform our inquiry. We hope the Government responds positively to our conclusions and recommendations; collectively, we must not lose sight of the fact that local authorities support some of the most vulnerable children in our society and must therefore be adequately equipped and resourced to do so.
3.We thank everyone who has contributed to our inquiry. We received over 70 written submissions from local authorities, children’s charities, independent care providers, academics and members of the public. The key themes of the written evidence were explored in three oral evidence sessions in which we heard from 18 organisations including both the Department for Education (DfE) and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). We also thank Lucy Allan MP and Lucy Powell MP, members of the Education Select Committee, who ‘guested’ on the inquiry under Standing Order No. 137A.
4.We wish to express our particular thanks to over 100 children’s social work professionals who took the time to participate in our survey on the pressures facing the children’s social care sector and their work. Our inquiry has undoubtedly benefited from hearing directly from professionals on the frontline of children’s social work. We are grateful to the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) for promoting our survey among their memberships.
1 NAO, , January 2019; MHCLG and DfE ()
2 NAO, , January 2019
4 House of Commons Library, , April 2019; NAO, , January 2019
Published: 1 May 2019