Emma recently spoke at the 2018 National Children and Adult Services Conference. Below is a transcript of her speech:
Good morning everyone, thank you for inviting me to speak with you all and I hope you’ve had a good Conference so far. It is always an honour to be invited to speak here because it is good to be amongst professionals who take public service seriously and are working day and day out to improve the lives of the most vulnerable despite facing insurmountable financial challenges.
Prior to becoming an MP I sat many a time where you are now, as Cabinet member on my local Council and child protection social worker, the gut-wrenching feeling when resources are so stretched that you have to decide who is more worthy of a service, who gets support before others is an unenviable position to be in. The anguish on the faces of those affected by these decisions will be forever etched on my brain.
But that was five years ago when austerity was in its infancy, now its reached herculean proportions and despite promises, it is over we all know it’s not. Local Government is being hollowed out and decimated, the drive from Government is one ideologically focussed on marketization and profit where everyone and everything has a price and their real value diminished.
This is seen no more starkly than in children’s services. The Local Government Association have reported that local authorities will face a £3 billion funding gap in Children’s services by 2025, 60% of social workers said that austerity cuts have affected their ability to do their jobs and according to the National Children’s Bureau, 41% of children’s services are now unable to fulfil their statutory duties. Action for Children recently reported that some 36,000 children had to be referred multiple times before they received statutory support to help them with serious issues like abuse, neglect and family dysfunction.
What this means is that children who are in a desperate state of help or protection are being subjected to further harm because of a lack of resources. That the most vulnerable children in our society are at further risk because of funding cuts is quite frankly shameful. It is little wonder that in this desperate environment one in seven children’s social workers quit the profession last year. Children’s social services departments are dealing with an unprecedented rate of referrals with over five hundred child protection cases each day, as a result of increased demand thresholds are rising and the bar for a care order applications had been set higher.
It is not only misguided but also dangerous that against this backdrop the Government continue to make drastic cuts to Local Authority Early Intervention Grants, the very grants that keep children from entering care have been slashed by up to £500 million with almost £200 million of cuts still to come, with 1,200 Sure Start centres gone, and budgets for children’s centres across England decreasing by 42% in the past five years it is little wonder that even members of the Conservative party are warning in the press that we are fast approaching another Baby P tragedy.
There is now a wealth of research that highlights the links between austerity and the rising numbers of children coming into contact with children’s service and entering care. A report by the Nuffield foundation found a child in the most deprived neighbourhood had an 11 times greater chance of being on a child protection plan and a 12 times greater chance of being looked after than a child living in the most affluent ones. It also found that deprivation was the largest contributory factor in children’s chances of being looked after and the most powerful factor in variations between areas.
Local Authorities are reporting overspends of £602 million to make sure vulnerable children are safe, the Chancellors pledge of 84 million pounds equates to just over 4 million each for 20 councils, is typical of this Government’s scattergun, piecemeal response to children’s services.
Yesterday’s looked after statistics made for grim reading, last year saw the biggest annual increase in children in care since 2010 and yesterday’s figures showed we are continuing on that trajectory with the number of looked after children rising to a record high of 75,420 children now in the care of the State, suggest that we are missing opportunities to safely avert the need for some children to come into care.
As a practising social worker, I often saw the pain caused to children, their wider birth family and their new family when they were removed from their parents’ care, even when it was the safest thing to do. It is utterly heartbreaking. When opportunities to keep a family together have been missed, that heartbreak and enduring pain never leave those involved. Yet what we are seeing time and time again is a system that is overly bureaucratic and under-resourced leaving no space for relationship building or developing a child and family-centred social care system across the board.
The Governments whole approach to the crisis in children’s services is lacking in any cohesive, strategic or joined up vision and is consumed with short-term measures that are not yielding any long-term positive changes, but so far have cost over sixty million pounds. The What Works centre has already cost taxpayers nearly £10 million and will not be in place until 2020. Partners in practice have had questionable results, with one council’s Ousted rating falling from outstanding to requiring improvement under the Government’s scheme. The forcing of mainly Labour-led Councils into Trust models that are little more than a rebranding exercise at a cost in excess of 17 million. The national assessment and accreditation system proved grossly unpopular, which forced a U-turn on the roll-out while gifting £23 million to private companies. The innovation programme has similarly bestowed £12 million on private consultancies, despite being time-limited and given only to certain local authorities, it not only pits local authorities against each other for funding but exacerbates the postcode lottery.
When it comes to Special Educational Needs and Disabilities, the rushed reforms introduced in the Children and Families Act have also created a postcode lottery of variable provision where many children with SEND continue to be let down. The crisis in our education system, recruitment, retention, cuts across the board have led to a situation where the figures for the numbers of SEND children facing fixed, permanent or even ‘illegal’ exclusions remain totally disproportionate compared to their peers, with three quarters of the pupils in pupil referral units having special educational needs.
Last year alone over 4000 children with SEND were left without a school place, in 2016 for the first time in 25 years more children with SEND were educated outside the mainstream, some subject to informal exclusions, some being homeschooled; the fact is this Government hasn’t bothered to keep track of these children so we don’t know where they are or what support they are getting, if any.
More than 1 in 10 children in England have some kind of SEND but shockingly only 3% of children in England have SEND Statements or the new Education and Health Care Plans. Earlier this year the Government failed to meet their target of transferring children onto SEND plans and we are now in a situation where there has been a groundswell of appeals and desperate parents are feeling they have no option but to crowdfund for court action, 9 out of 10 are successful at tribunal indicating deep flaws across SEND provision. As local authorities have overspent their SEND budgets for the past 4 years and the shortfall by the end of 2018-19 will be more than £500 million. The mantra from Government Ministers that more money than ever before and record investment is going into education not only rings hollow but shows a total disconnect between reality and rhetoric.
Labour would do things differently, in our Manifesto last year we outlined our commitments to local government, children’s services and SEND education.
In our first year, we would give local government £1.5 billion of extra funding and initiate a review into reforming council tax and business rates and consider other options so that local government has sustainable funding for the long term. Labour would also provide our schools with 6.3 billion pounds worth of funding and ensure no school lost out from the new funding formula.
Our National Education Service has at its heart the guiding principle that Access to education should be a fundamental right for all no matter who they are, where they are from or what their circumstances are because a good education can make the difference between where you begin in life and where you end up. For too long SEND provision has been seen as an add-on, as an extra, we are committed to a truly inclusive education system based on choice where children, parents and adult learners alike with SEND can attend mainstream or specialist provision. It is simply not right that a child should lose out because of the circumstances they were born into or because they have special needs, I and Labour are determined to change that for the good.
We are committed to looking strategically and holistically at the children’s social care system in its entirety and giving equity to all forms of care. We are committed to stemming the tide of privatisation in the sector because we know that when profit becomes the driving force good social care suffers and children get hurt. We are committed to putting into domestic legislation the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which will ensure that every single department of Government has children’s rights at their core and will be held to account on those rights.
In short, we are committed to children.
We will ensure that once again every child matters.
Because at the moment the belief that every child matters could not be further from the reality.