LGA: Eight in 10 councils forced to overspend on children’s social care budgets amid soaring demand

More than eight in 10 councils in England responsible for children’s social care overspent in the year to 2019/20. This comes despite councils increasing their budgets by £535 million that year and by £1.1 billion in the past two years.


sad child deep in thought with sun reflection behind her

Soaring demand to help safeguard children and funding pressures meant councils in England had to overspend on children’s social care budgets by £832 million in 2019/20, Local Government Association analysis shows.

Councils want to work with government to prioritise a child-centred recovery plan and play a leading role in the government-commissioned independent review of the care system, alongside children, families, and partners.

The LGA said this must include a long-term sustainable funding solution so councils can protect children at risk of harm. Councils are also urging government to reinstate the £1.7 billion removed from the Early Intervention Grant since 2010 to help prevent problems escalating in the first place.

The LGA, which represents councils in England and Wales, reveals that:

  • More than eight in 10 councils in England responsible for children’s social care overspent in the year to 2019/20. This comes despite councils increasing their budgets by £535 million that year and by £1.1 billion in the past two years.
  • In the past decade, the number of Section 47 enquiries, carried out when councils have reasonable cause to suspect a child is suffering, or at risk of, significant harm has increased from 89,300 in 2010 to 201,000 in 2020 - a rise of 125 per cent.
  • The number of children in care in England has increased from 64,470 in 2010 to 80,080 in 2020 – a 24 per cent rise.

This sharp rise in need for urgent child protection services in recent years has meant councils have been forced to divert limited resources from the early intervention and preventative services which help families and young people before they reach crisis point,into services to protect those at immediate risk.

Despite increasing budgets, councils are still having to cut universal and early help services, such as children’s centres and youth services, in order to prioritise spend on looked-after children and child protection services.

The LGA said councils fear the pandemic will further fuel demand for children’s services with councils having even less money available to help young people and families in need of support.

It said there is an urgent need to secure the sustainability of children’s social care services, both to keep children safe and to make sure they aren’t left behind in the nation’s recovery.

Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said:

“Councils stand ready to work with government to ensure no child is left behind as we recover from the pandemic.

“The demand on children’s social care services is unsustainable. Councils have increased their budgets for children’s services by diverting funds from other areas but due to spiralling demand for support they are still overspending and fear this will continue as pent-up demand due to the pandemic becomes clearer.

“Supporting and protecting vulnerable children is one of the most important roles played by councils who want to ensure all children are safe, loved and thrive. It is vital that children’s services are fully funded to give children the right help at the right time, which includes providing the early intervention and prevention support that can stop children and families reaching crisis point in the first place.”

Notes to editors

1. LGA analysis of local authority revenue expenditure and financing statistics shows that 130 of 151 (86 per cent) of councils in England overspent their children’s social care budgets in 2019/20.

2. Councils’ budget and spend over the last five years (figures rounded).

Councils’ budget and spend over the last five years

Year

Budget

Spend

2014/15

£7.7 billion

£8 billion

2015/16

£7.7 billion

£8.3 billion

2016/17

£7.8 billion

£8.5 billion

2017/18

£8 billion

£8.8 billion

2018/19

£8.6 billion

£9.4 billion

2019/20

£9.1 billion

£9.9 billion

Total increase:

£1.4 billion

£1.9 billion

3. Overspend analysis is a comparison of local authority revenue expenditure and financing data (revenue account budget file, column AK) with revenue outturn social care and public health services (RO3 file, column BP)

4. Children in need statistics for 2020. Children in need statistics for 2010.