The NHS isn’t the only area in need of a funding boost

Posted by Dan Breslin / Thursday 21 June 2018 / Government spending
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It has been hard to miss the Prime Minister’s announcement of additional funding for the NHS. No sooner had Downing Street put the press release out, questions were being fired off about where the extra money would be coming from.

There might never be enough time to delve into the ins and outs of the so-called Brexit Dividend. But newspapers are now reporting that the additional NHS funding will mean the taps are turned off for other areas of government spending – from Defence to Schools.

This is a big worry because the NHS is not the only area where additional funding is badly needed. Children’s social care is facing a funding gap of £2bn by 2020. Filling this gap may slow down the deterioration of services but in itself is not enough. The £2bn figure is about matching previous spending levels, not meeting growing need.  

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It isn’t a surprise to hear about a funding shortfall. Since 2010 government funding for children’s services has fallen by £2.4bn. The lion’s share of these cuts has been borne by services designed to stop problems getting worse – as the IFS and Children’s Commissioner found last week.

It shouldn’t then come as a shock to hear that without these services problems are reaching crisis point and costing even more to deal with. Something needs to change. It seems a sensible starting point is making sure the system in place has the resources it needs.

There are only so many ways a government can fund services – including children’s social care. They can borrow more, increase taxes or move funding around from one area to another. To govern is to choose.

But the Government is going to have to find a way to fund additional spending on the NHS announced last week. And it won’t be long before it has to face facts and find a way to put much needed funding into children’s services.

There are a couple of options for ministers to consider in how they can achieve this. The Government can allocate additional funding through this year’s Budget in the form of a one-off grant to councils. A similar approach was used to help address funding shortfalls for adult social care.

The Treasury could also allocate a specific amount to a government departments in next year’s Spending Review. Ministers could then share this out amongst councils year-on-year to help keep pace with demand.

Another approach might be to allow councils to raise local taxes through a dedicated children’s social care ‘precept.’ This would be similar to how councils have been allowed to address increasing demand for adult social care.

Any of the options above has to come with the requirement of funding being earmarked specifically for children’s services. A big lump sum for councils without this condition will only lead to cash-strapped councils funnelling the money elsewhere.

Sadly, whilst there are some options none offer an easy way out. There will have to be a tough debate about where the funding for children’s services comes from. But it is a debate that is badly needed.

Just like the NHS, we have to make sure we are adequately funding services some of the most vulnerable in society rely on.

 

 

 

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