The vulnerable children missing their only chance for support

Spending cuts have deeply affected the help available for vunerable families -- and soon, this will

The Coalition Government made a commitment to protect the most vulnerable from the impact of spending cuts. This commitment has been supported by reviews, policies and initiatives including the review into child protection, the Early Years Foundation Stage, child poverty and early intervention.

The introduction of the Early Intervention Grant, the focus on the "foundation years", ongoing support for the children's centres network, the introduction of the Pupil Premium and the commitment to turn around the lives of the 120,000 families with multiple problems are further evidence of the recognition by the coalition government that services must be able to step in to support families and individuals before problems escalate or become entrenched.

We set out to establish whether the commitments given and the measures taken so far have indeed protected the most vulnerable amidst unprecedented public spending cuts, radical reform of the welfare state and public service delivery and the changing relationship between the central state, localised decision making and individual citizens.

As headlines were grabbed by economists and political analysts on the day of the 2010 Spending Review, Action for Children began to track and monitor how those decisions were actually playing out in communities. Our response was clear: the most vulnerable children, young people and families must not pay the price for the economic difficulties facing the UK, or the political and economic decisions being made subsequently.

Our resultant Red Book offers clear and evidence-based analysis about how the needs of the most vulnerable children, young people and families have changed over the last year and, crucially, the resources that are available to meet that need. Our findings show that while there is greater need for support, cuts to the budgets of vital services mean that increasingly this need cannot be met.

We found that 42 per cent of services have seen a rise in demand for the services that we provide in the last year. What's more, 48 per cent reported this demand has further increased in the last three months. To compound that, we found that 68 per cent of our frontline children's services have had cuts to their budgets, and over a third (37 per cent) of these services have seen cuts of between 11 and 30 per cent this year alone.

We are increasingly working with families who are reaching breaking point; where children are at risk of neglect and entering the care system, getting into trouble with the law, or where parents are no longer able to cope.

The scale of change and the cutbacks could have serious and lasting consequences. It is a false economy to cut services that prevent family breakdown, prevent children unnecessarily entering care and prevent young people entering the justice system. Children, communities and ultimately the state are at risk of paying the price for the decisions made now, both socially and economically. Research shows that if life-changing services, such as intensive family support, are cut across the UK, it will cost the UK economy £1.3 billion per year.

Furthermore, we are at risk of reaching a point where decisions that are directly affecting the most vulnerable children and families cannot be reversed. If existing local infrastructures, such as children's centres, are stripped back too far, it may not be affordable to replace them in the foreseeable future.

Most importantly, the children that are missing out now will not get the chance for vital support again and the opportunity to help and support them during their childhoods will be lost.

We are concerned at the scale of change and cutbacks that we are seeing and believe that their consequences could be serious and lasting. It is still early on in the life of this Parliament, however. Many decisions and choices are not yet finally made so there is time to reconsider, in light of the emerging evidence, and take action.

Helen Donohoe is the director of public policy at Action for Children

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The UK is dangerously close to breaking apart - there's one way to fix it

We must rethink our whole constitutional settlement. 

When the then-Labour leader John Smith set up a report on social justice for what would be the incoming government in 1997, he said we must stop wasting our most precious resource – "the extraordinary skills and talents of ordinary people".

It is one of our party’s greatest tragedies that he never had the chance to see that vision put into practice. 

At the time, it was clear that while our values of equality, solidarity and tolerance endured, the solutions we needed were not the same as those when Labour was last in power in the 1970s, and neither were they to be found in the policies of opposition from the 1980s. 

The Commission on Social Justice described a UK transformed by three revolutions:

  • an economic revolution brought about by increasing globalisation, innovation and a changing labour market
  • a social revolution that had seen the role of women in society transformed, the traditional family model change, inequality ingrained and relationships between people in our communities strained
  • a political revolution that challenged the centralisation of power, demanded more individual control and accepted a different role for government in society.

Two decades on, these three revolutions could equally be applied to the UK, and Scotland, today. 

Our economy, society and our politics have been transformed even further, but there is absolutely no consensus – no agreement – about the direction our country should take. 

What that has led to, in my view, is a society more dangerously divided than at any point in our recent history. 

The public reject the status quo but there is no settled will about the direction we should take. 

And instead of grappling with the complex messages that people are sending us, and trying to find the solutions in the shades of grey, politicians of all parties are attached to solutions that are black or white, dividing us further. 

Anyone in Labour, or any party, who claims that we can sit on the margins and wait for politics to “settle down” will rightly be consigned to history. 

The future shape of the UK, how we govern ourselves and how our economy and society should develop, is now the single biggest political question we face. 

Politics driven by nationalism and identity, which were for so long mostly confined to Scotland, have now taken their place firmly in the mainstream of all UK politics. 

Continuing to pull our country in these directions risks breaking the United Kingdom once and for all. 

I believe we need to reaffirm our belief in the UK for the 21st century. 

Over time, political power has become concentrated in too few hands. Power and wealth hoarded in one corner of our United Kingdom has not worked for the vast majority of people. 

That is why the time has come for the rest of the UK to follow where Scotland led in the 1980s and 1990s and establish a People’s Constitutional Convention to re-establish the UK for a new age. 

The convention should bring together groups to deliberate on the future of our country and propose a way forward that strengthens the UK and establishes a new political settlement for the whole of our country. 

After more than 300 years, it is time for a new Act of Union to safeguard our family of nations for generations to come.

This would mean a radical reshaping of our country along federal lines where every component part of the United Kingdom – Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regions – take more responsibility for what happens in their own communities, but where we still maintain the protection of being part of a greater whole as the UK. 

The United Kingdom provides the redistribution of wealth that defines our entire Labour movement, and it provides the protection for public finance in Scotland that comes from being part of something larger, something good, and something worth fighting for. 

Kezia Dugdale is the leader of the Scottish Labour party.