Budget 2021: Did the Government choose children?
To govern is to choose. Imran Hussain, Director of Policy & Campaigns, reflects on some of the Government’s big choices in today's Budget and Spending Review
After the ABC decade of Austerity, Brexit and Coronavirus, which crowded out attention and money from children’s issues, charities have been clear that Government plans to 'Build Back Better' must choose to prioritise children. They must Build Back Childhood.
Commenting on Budgets and Spending Reviews on the day they happen is risky business. There’s a decent chance you’ll be tripped up by the small print in the many hundreds of pages in the Treasury documents.
So, health warning dispensed with, did the Government choose children?
The Chancellor claimed that today’s announcements increased total departmental spending in the spending review period by £150bn. Relatively little of that was for children. For example, there was an increase in school funding, but this basically took us back to 2010 levels of per pupil funding.
Action for Children’s family hubs and children's centres help give children the best start in life, by helping them develop and supporting parents. We’re pleased that the Chancellor listened to Andrea Leadsom - who conducted a well-regarded review for ministers - and announced £300m for early years and family hubs. We very much hope that’s the start of a programme of desperately needed investment.
These include specifics on children’s homes and regulated accommodation, plus an extra £200m for the Supporting Families programme. Funding cuts for local authorities have been a key driver of cuts to early help services. So, an increase in funding will help give councils greater freedom to prioritise children’s services.
The bad news is that the Chancellor is pressing on with the cut to the standard element – the bit that everyone receives - of Universal Credit. That’s a huge bite out of family budgets - £20 a week, £87 a month and £1,040 a year. That’s £6bn a year taken from households.
Today, the Chancellor offered a £2bn partial rescue package for workers receiving Universal Credit. He cut the taper - the rate at which Universal Credit is withdrawn as earnings rise – from 63p to 55p for every pound earned. He also increased the work allowance – how much people can earn before the taper is applied - by £500 for those with children or limited capability to work.
But this is still a £2bn fix for a £6bn hole in family budgets made as a matter of choice by the Government.
The Chancellor talked about a ‘new age of optimism’ post-pandemic, but the choices being made on social security provide a pretty bleak outlook for child poverty. Especially for the poorest families who cannot work due to illness or disability, caring responsibilities or have lost their jobs.
The funding to partially undo previous cuts to children’s centres, local authorities and Universal Credit is welcome.
But all of these services, as well as the NHS and schools, will increasingly come under pressure if, as a country, we choose higher levels of child poverty.
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