The Institute for Fiscal Studies has calculated that soaring costs and slumping income will result in a £2bn deficit for councils this year. Luton council, which is proposing to cut £3.2m from its children and families budget, said Covid-19 had had a “catastrophic impact” on its finances, not least with income from its airport company plummeting.
It is due to close four “Flying Start” children’s centres across the town and from next spring cease the provision of services helping mothers feed their newborns, cafes for parents of infants, as well as sessions of baby massage, baby talk, stay and play, messy play, and sing and sign. It is proposing an alternative “model of support that encourages families to access and build upon existing family, friends and community networks”.
Oxfordshire county council is proposing a similar £3.5m saving from children’s services. And at the London borough of Croydon, proposed savings in children’s services have been put at £4.1m with the reduction of 36 full-time equivalent staff positions.
“The possibility of a second wave of the virus later this year, particularly if combined with a flu epidemic, would also place a huge strain on existing resources, especially if lockdown is required and services have to be stood down again,” said Cllr Ian Hudspeth, Conservative leader of Oxfordshire county council.
“There may well be significant costs in future years arising from Covid as a result of reduced business rates and council tax. When we get to winter and need to set a budget for 2021-22 and beyond, it is likely to be extremely challenging.”
“This government promised to fund councils to do whatever it takes to get communities through the Covid-19 crisis, but ministers have broken their pledge, putting vulnerable children at risk as councils are already being forced to make emergency cuts,” said Steve Reed, the shadow communities and local government secretary. “Children should not be punished because the government is forcing cuts on to cash-strapped councils. It’s still not too late for ministers to do another U-turn and stick to their original promises.”
“Cuts to children’s social care would be the opposite of ‘levelling up’,” said Ruth Allen, the chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers. “With clear evidence of more domestic abuse, mental health pressures, rising unemployment and disruption to schooling in the pandemic, we should be reversing the real-time cuts seen over a decade in children’s services.” The association’s survey of over 2,300 social workers has also found the most common fear is increased likelihood of children being exposed to domestic violence, abuse and poor parental mental health as a result of lockdown.
“Councils continue to work all day and night to lead communities through this pandemic but are being stretched to the maximum as a result,” said a spokesman for the Local Government Association. “Many are facing increased cost and demand pressures as a result, while at the same time seeing a significant drop in income. It is vital that councils receive the funding they need to support children, young people and families both during the current phase of the crisis, and through the recovery period. The impact of the pandemic on some children will be far-reaching, and it will be essential that the right services are there to support them.”
A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesperson said: “These misleading claims ignore the unprecedented support the government has provided local councils during the pandemic with a £4.3bn package, including £3.7bn which is not ringfenced to help them support their communities, including vulnerable children.
“Councils also have access to £49.1bn this financial year, a £2.9bn – or an estimated 4.4% real terms increase – to help them deliver essential services for local communities. We will continue to work closely with councils as they support their communities through the pandemic.”