The Chancellor said his Summer Budget "sets the way to secure Britain’s future". But what does that future hold for children, asks Anna Feuchtwang?
It was no surprise that today’s Budget announcement centred on major cuts to the welfare system. Despite Osborne laying his trump card – a welcome introduction of a National Living Wage – the fears of those working with vulnerable children are yet to be allayed.
Hard times ahead
We know that children and families have been hit by the previous government’s below inflation increases in child benefit and child tax credits. Our research [http://www.endchildpoverty.org.uk/our-campaign/short-changed-how-children-are-hit-by-benefits-freezes] with the End Child Poverty coalition showed that 7.7 million children were affected by that decision, and that one in five families said they had to cut back on food and heating as a result.
Today the Chancellor confirmed he would go further – with a freeze on benefit rates, decreased support for larger families, a lower benefit cap and housing benefit withdrawn from many young people. It is unfortunate that children were not afforded the same protection as older people. Along with the End Child Poverty coalition, we have called for a ‘triple lock’ on children’s benefits, so that they, like the state pension, increase by at least 2.5 per cent.
It remains unclear whether the Living Wage will really make up the losses. However, with these cuts and the government making moves to erase the duty to eradicate child poverty, we have to ask whether the Summer Budget will result in a wider gap between children living in disadvantage and their better-off peers.
Cuts that cost
As families come under increasing pressure to pay the bills, local councils will be facing more demand for early help services, demand they’ll want to meet if they are to prevent problems becoming more serious and more costly. Today’s announcement that Manchester councils will be given more powers to play a greater role in children’s services could provide a real opportunity for local leaders to develop innovative approaches to providing cost effective early intervention.
However, there’s no getting away from the fact that these services are under increasing pressure as funding for local authorities is cut – early intervention funding for local authorities was cut by over half over the last Parliament (http://www.ncb.org.uk/cutsthatcost ). While local authorities are clearly making an effort to protect children’s centres, young people’s and family support services, this will continue to be a challenge as budgets tighten further.
It’s time that the government introduced longer term, dedicated and protected budgets for early intervention services.
All in all, the Summer Budget appears to be a missed opportunity to put children first. Apart from additional free childcare, there was little that will help achieve the government’s manifesto pledge to ensure every child gets the best start in life. All eyes will be on the Spending Round in the autumn, where we will see whether this ‘One Nation’ government will secure a happy and safe future for our children.