Josh MacAlister (photo: Frontline)
The children’s social care review cannot assume additional government funding to implement its recommendations, a contract, signed between review head Josh MacAlister and the Department for Education, has shown.
The document, published this week, said that while extra funding from the review was not out of the question, it would have to be based on a very strong case and matched by savings elsewhere in government over a period of time.
The news has caused significant concern given the pressure on local authority budgets since 2010, exacerbated by Covid-19, and the belief that the review needs to herald significantly greater in children’s social care to succeed.
Recommendations ‘must be affordable’
The contract, which also revealed that MacAlister would be paid just over £140,000 for leading the review from 1 March 2021 to 31 March 2022, said he would need to ensure that the recommendations were “affordable” to government.
It said that the Department for Education (DfE) could not “assume any additional expenditure funding from the [Treasury] to meet the [review’s] recommendations” and that for any recommendations that do involve additional expenditure, the DfE must demonstrate a “robust and detailed evidence base”, and how this will be offset by savings elsewhere in government and over what time period.
The contract also said that the DfE must share with the Treasury early findings from the review to inform its bid for this year’s government spending review, which will set public spending limits for the next few years.
Carolyne Willow, director of children’s rights charity Article 39, said that “we can now see [MacAlister] is tied into a legal contract which says there is no new funding for children’s social care. Any extra resources for children and families which may come out of this review have to offset by savings from other public services, which are already on their knees.”
‘Inconceivable’ additional funds won’t be needed
She added: “It is inconceivable that ideas and proposals would not require public funds, just as any once-in-a-generation review of the NHS or education would inevitably point towards additional resources.”
Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) president Jenny Coles said: “Local government budgets have been reduced by 50% since 2010 and recent ADCS research shows that £800 million is needed in one year to close the budget gap just to ‘stay still’. If we are to improve the outcomes of children and young people we must have the necessary funding to achieve this.”
Judith Blake, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said: “The independent review of children’s social care is an important opportunity to make sure that services are working as well as possible to support children and their families, making sure that every child has the safety, stability and love that they need to thrive. There are many lessons we can learn from those with lived experience of the system, and about how we can best provide the support people need.
“But this will fail to make the changes children deserve if funding is not available to implement those lessons. There is only so much services can do in the face of falling funding and increasing need, and transforming services in itself costs money.
“However, the driving force for investment must always be unashamedly about outcomes for children. With a growing child population and increasing need among children and families that has been exacerbated by the pandemic, we strongly believe that additional funding will be needed to ensure this review has the positive impact that the government intends.”
Biggest costs ‘paid by children and families’
Responding to the concerns on Twitter, MacAlister said: “Doesn’t the contract show that the review cannot secure extra government funding? No. It says that I “cannot assume any additional funding” but goes on to acknowledge that I can recommend new funding and that I’d need to make a case for it. The biggest cost of children’s social care failing is the human cost paid by children and families.
“Beyond the £10bn+ spent within the children’s social care system there are £bns more spent as a result of poor outcomes. The review therefore needs to show the whole cost to the country when we fail children and young people and show how money can be better spent getting things right for children and families.”