St. Helens council reduced its spending on early support for children by around £7.8 million over the last decade, according to a new report.
A coalition of charities – The Children’s Society, Action for Children, Barnardo’s, National Children’s Bureau and the NSPCC – says councils have struggled with the impact of funding cuts, with many of the poorest areas hardest hit.
Research by Pro Bono Economics found that spending on early intervention support – which prevents children from coming to harm – was around £8.5 million in St. Helens in 2020-21.
However, this was down 48% since 2010-11 in real terms (taking inflation into account) – effectively a fall of £7.8 million in today's money.
It meant a real terms drop from £303 per child to £164.
Investment in early support services – which range from children’s centres and youth clubs, to targeted support with issues like drug and alcohol misuse – halved from £3.8 billion to £1.9 billion in real terms across England over this period.
The charities said this has created a "vicious cycle", where councils are forced to spend more on costly crisis support, leaving more children and young people exposed to risks like exploitation, neglect and mental ill-health.
Mark Russell, chief executive at The Children’s Society, said: “Young people have told us they felt they needed to get hurt or harm someone in order be taken seriously.
“It’s a big concern that children in deprived areas, where needs may be greatest, are often among those least likely to get help before problems spiral out of control.
“If ministers are serious about Levelling Up they must better target funding to the areas that need it most."
Researchers found spending on crisis and late intervention services rose from £6 billion to £8.2 billion in real terms across England over the decade.
In St. Helens, this type of spending rose from £22.3 million to £42.4 million in real terms over this time.
Imran Hussain, director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, said: “Across political divides there has been recognition of the value to communities and the public purse of investing in services that help individuals and families early, before more serious and more costly problems develop.
“The Government has to give local authorities the resources they need to invest in preventative services to stem the tide of children coming to harm before they’re helped.”
The charities are calling for the next Prime Minister to invest a minimum of £2.6 billion extra in children’s social care, as recommended by the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, and for local authorities to be awarded extra funding in the next Chancellor’s first Budget.
A Government spokesman said: “We have made an additional £3.7 billion available to councils this year alone to help them deliver key services and support families.
“We are backing families with better and earlier access to services that keep them safe and healthy, by expanding a network of Family Hubs all over England and increasing investment in the Supporting Families programme, which is helping to keep up to 300,000 families together safely and provide loving homes for children."