Leading children’s charity Barnardo’s called “on the new government to act now to stop the life being squeezed out of children’s centres,” in a recent press release following new calculations that reveal a dramatic budget decrease of over 35 per cent since 2010.
Researchers for the charity analysed Department for Education figures and returns from local authorities. They discovered during the period 2010/11 to 2014/15, the annual children centres expenditure decreased sharply from £1.2 billion to an estimated £740 million. According to Barnardo’s “it is clear that children’s centre funding has been leaking away year after year leading to the closure or merging of hundreds of these lifeline services across England.”
If this were to continue over the next five years annual funding for children’s centres could decline by an average of £92 million per year.
The charity urges the new government to provide more money for local authorities to halt the decline in this vital expenditure to preserve children’s centres for future generations of children and their parents.
Local Authorities have had to make tough decisions concerning how money is allocated as their budgets have being slashed; some have been expected to deliver the same level and quality of care with half the funding. This has made it near impossible for them to take advantage of the long-term social and financial benefits that arises from early engagement.
Barnardo’s Chief Executive Officer, Javed Khan said:
Cuts to basic early support now will only result in increased costs in the future. Without the vital support of children centres to the poorest children and families, we are simply neglecting the seeds of more costly problems later in the shape of troubled families, crime, substance abuse and unemployment.
Investing in the UK’s children’s centres simply makes sense – not only are we investing in our children, we are investing in our future.
Poverty has a huge impact on the life chances of children and young people. Starting from the cradle onwards, poorer children can expect to typically lag up to 15 months behind in their vocabulary than their richer peers. At age seven, they perform far behind their classmates in ability tests.
Poorer children attain fewer good GCSEs and are more likely to be unemployed on leaving education. Once unemployed they face permanent ‘wage scarring’, which means they’ll earn less than their peers later in life too.
This is why the Conservative strategy of providing their greatly underfunded free childcare policy in place of, and not in addition to vital services is so detrimental.
In a statement released they said:
Barnardo’s is urging the Government to plug the drain in funding to children’s centres by ensuring local authorities have the funding to prioritise these important services. Additionally it must increase funding for disadvantaged 3 and 4 year-olds and protect existing funding for state schools to raise the attainment of disadvantaged pupils, such as the Pupil Premium and Free School Meals.
A Department for Education spokeswoman said recent research showed record numbers of children were now using the centres. Adding:
Councils have a duty to ensure sufficient children’s centres to meet local need and to ensure they consult before any significant changes are made, including taking into account the views of local families and communities.
According to the Local Government Association, which represents councils in England, in past five years there have been around a 40% reduction in the overall amount central government provides for children’s services; this has had huge consequences for children’s centres. David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board said:
We welcome the fact that more children and families are using children’s centres but at a time when budgets are stretched there are limits to what can be achieved when councils are having to serve more families and children with less money.