Jeremy Hunt told councils ‘desperately need’ extra funding to help vulnerable children
Twenty-nine organisations, including the Local Government Association and NSPCC, have signed a letter calling on Mr Hunt to set out a support package for stretched councils in his Autumn Statement on Wednesday.
They claim local authorities saw the cost of caring for vulnerable children rise by £1.5bn last year, taking the total to £12.8bn.
“Most of this goes towards supporting children at the highest risk, meaning there is not enough to intervene early and provide that lifeline of support for children and families when they first need help,” the letter stated. “They shouldn’t have to wait until things get worse.
“There is good evidence available for programmes that – with the right investment – can help support children earlier, keep families safely together and ensure stable homes for children in care.
“In the Autumn Statement, we are urging you to provide the funding that children’s social care desperately needs and stabilise the children’s social care system before it is pushed to the brink.
“Without this, there is a genuine fear that councils will not be able to provide the critical care and support that children rely on every day.”
It comes as the Government is being urged to overhaul the care system, which sees local authorities bid for a small number of places at privately run homes, pay exorbitant fees and sometimes send children to live hundreds of miles away from their homes.
Last year the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care found a £2.6bn investment is needed for sweeping reform, adding: “The time for a reset is now, and there is not a moment to lose.”
The review said the current system is “based on profit” and local authorities must be given “the power and means to rebuild publicly owned and not-for-profit foster and residential homes”.
Private companies operate more than 80 per cent of children’s homes across England and a shortage of places has driven up prices in recent years.
The average cost rose from £2,977 to £3,830 per week for each child between 2016 and 2020.
There are more than 83,000 children in care in England and councils, which are legally required to find accommodation for children who need it, are forced to compete against each other and bid for places in privately run homes.
The 20 largest providers were paid £1.63bn last year to provide residential accommodation and they kept almost 19 per cent of that money (£310m) as profit, according to analysis by the Local Government Association.
Earlier this month Councillor Susan Hinchcliffe, leader of Bradford Council, called on the Government to cap the fees charged by private providers as her council is paying almost £6,000 per child per week.
The local authority is expected to spend £242m on children’s services in 2023-24 – when it is due to raise just £233m from council tax.
Mr Hunt has been told councils need at least £4bn of additional funding over the next two years to continue providing basic services, as they are struggling with inflation and rising demand.
He has not hinted at a significant funding increase in the Autumn Statement, but is considering plans to cut taxes on income, inheritance and businesses.
Comment: Page 12.