UK Government legislation and policy
30. The Westminster Government has often re-stated its long-term objectives of encouraging early intervention, reducing the number of ‘troubled ‘families’, tackling youth unemployment and increasing social mobility (Action for Children 2012). It has also stated its commitment to improving the child protection system. Following the election of the Conservative Government in May 2015 the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, announced within his first 100 days of office that protecting children is a priority for his Conservative government. For the first time, Preventing Abuse and Exploitation has been given a ministerial portfolio with Karen Bradley, MP as the first incumbent. This role sits within the Home Office and is very much focused on protecting children from abuse and supporting children who have experienced abuse.
31. Children and Families Act 2014 introduced a number of reforms including the encouragement of ‘fostering for adoption’ which allows approved adopters to foster children while they wait for court approval to adopt; introduces a 26 week time limit for the courts to decide whether or not a child should be taken into care. In some cases, this limit may be extended by eight weeks; arrangements which allow children in care to stay with their foster families until the age of 21 years. This is provided that both the young person and the foster family are happy to do so and introduces a single assessment process and an Education, Health and Care ( EHC) Plan to support children, young people and their families from birth to 25 years. The EHC plan will replace statements of special educational needs. Most of the legislation relates to England and Wales but legislation in relation to helping both parents of a child to do the best for their child, starting from before the child is born, and rights to flexible working.
32. The Prevent Duty (2015) advice about the ‘ prevent duty’ in the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 is for school leaders, school staff and governing bodies in all local-authority-maintained schools, academies and free schools; proprietors, governors and staff in all independent schools; and proprietors, managers and staff in childcare settings.
33. One key development is the Child Protection Taskforce set to drive forward fundamental reforms to protect the most vulnerable children in our society and give them the opportunity to succeed. The taskforce will be responsible for leading improvements across police, social services and other agencies – focusing on transforming social work and children’s services and improving inspection. In January 2016 the Taskforce published Children’s social care reform. A vision for change (Department for Education 2016) and set out reforms in three areas: people and leadership, practice and systems and governance and accountability.
34. Early Intervention Grant was introduced in 2010 at around £3.2 billion in today’s prices. Work by the Children’s Society and National Children’s Bureau identified that by 2015 however, the value of the grant has been more than halved to around £1.5 billion and the new data about funding to local authorities shows that Early Intervention funding is expected to fall further, to just £900 million by 2020 – a reduction of 70% over the course of the decade (http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk).
35. Working together to safeguard children (2015) is an updated version of the key statutory guidance for anyone working with children in England in March 2015 replacing the previous version published by Department for Education in 2013. It sets out how organisations and individuals should work together and how practitioners should conduct the assessment of children. This was not a major review, but does include changes around referral of allegations against those who work with children, clarification of requirements on local authorities to notify serious incidents; and a definition of serious harm for the purposes of serious case reviews.
36. Troubled Families programme applies to England only. The government’s £448 million 3-year budget for 2012 to 2015 was drawn from 6 Whitehall departments. Local authorities were paid up to £4,000 on a payment-by-results basis for turning around troubled families. There were 117,910 families targeted under the government’s Troubled Families programme 2012 to 2015. In response to the results of this first phase, the second phase of the Troubled Families programme was launched in 2015, with £920m allocated to help an additional 400,000 families. The second phase will run until 2020.
37. The Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016 implements policies that were contained in both the Conservative Party manifesto ahead of the 2015 general election as well as statements made in the July 2015 budget. Among other measures that Act represents the Government's attempts to increase employment, curb the welfare budget, reduce child poverty and support working households. The Act will: lower the benefit cap to £20,000 per year for couples and lone parents and £13,400 for single claimants, except in Greater London (with the ability to make further cuts without consultation with parliament); places a freeze on the level of certain working-age social security benefits and tax credit amounts for the next four years including income support, jobseeker’s allowance, employment and support allowance, housing benefit, universal credit, the individual child elements of child tax credit; and the entitlement to universal credit and child tax credit has been limited to a maximum of two children in each household. This applies to the UK.
Public sector spending
38. The 2010-2015 Coalition Government targeted the social security budget with unprecedented cuts in expenditure totalling £22 billion a year in 2014-15. Major changes implemented under the Welfare Reform Act 2012 included the restructure of the whole working age benefits system and a wide range of changes to the social security system that have had a significant impact on families with children, including freezing child benefit rates frozen and introducing a sliding scale via income tax from people earning between £50,000 and £60,000, removal of the baby element of child tax credit. This was an extra £545 in the first year, payable to low and middle income families, and cut childcare costs covered by working tax credit cut from 80 per cent to 70 per cent. Working parents may need to pay up to £1,560 a year extra for childcare. From October 2013 Universal credit started to replace income-based benefits and tax credits for new working age claimants and in the 2015 Budget, the Chancellor announced further cuts to the welfare budget including a lowering of the benefit cap and the reductions in working tax credits.
39. The Westminster budget of summer 2015 introduce a series of measure to support children and families which included: a new National Living Wage of over £9 an hour by 2020; a new National Living Wage of £7.20 an hour for the over 25s to rise over £9 an hour by 2020 and an increasing the tax-free Personal Allowance to £11,000. However, also announced were further savings to be made of £12 billion by 2019-20 through welfare reforms and a further £5 billion by 2019-20 from measures to tackle tax avoidance, planning, evasion, compliance, and imbalances in the tax system. Working-age benefits, including tax credits and Local Housing Allowance will be frozen for 4 years from 2016-17 (not including Maternity Allowance, maternity pay, paternity pay and sick pay) and support through Child Tax Credit will be limited to 2 children for children born from April 2017 and rents for social housing will be reduced by 1% a year for 4 years, and tenants on higher incomes (over £40,000 in London and over £30,000 outside London) will be required to pay market rate, or near market rate, rents
40. In 2012, the Local Government Association ( LGA) published its financial outlook for councils in light of Future funding outlook for councils from 2010/11 to 2019/20 in response to the Chancellor’s 2012 Autumn Statement. The preliminary analysis concluded that ‘our model shows a likely funding gap of £16.5 billion a year by 2019/20, or a 29 per cent shortfall between revenue and spending pressures. ’ (p.2). Following the Spending Review in 2013, the LGA updated its funding outlook report to incorporate an additional 10 per cent real-terms cut to council funding for 2015/16 and has expressed concerns about the significant pressures this could add to children’s social care.
41. The Coalition Government introduced changes to the welfare system through the Welfare Reform Act 2012 and Universal Credit will provide a single payment for people who are looking for work or on a low income, and will be implemented between 2013 and 2017.
42. Not all welfare changes are yet fully implemented and Universal Credit is in the early stages of rollout. The full impact of all changes is not yet known, however, early indications are that the impact of the reform programme will vary greatly from place to place as the spread of benefit claimants across the UK is uneven (Beatty and Fothergill 2013). This programme of welfare reform, however, is affecting families with children across the whole of the UK. Research commissioned by Action for Children, NSPCC and The Children’s Society estimated the impact of these changes on families with children with a special focus on the impact on vulnerable families (Reed 2012). It found that the changes to the tax and benefit systems on average, will have a negative impact on every type of vulnerable household. Tax and benefit changes disproportionately hit the most vulnerable and their negative impact on family income increases the more vulnerable you are. The report identified that while the introduction of Universal Credit should result in a gain in income for some of the most vulnerable families; this is not large enough to offset the losses resulting from other changes to the benefit system, such as changes to Housing Benefit and disability benefits.
43. The report estimated a substantial increase in the number of vulnerable families with children between 2010 and 2015 as a result of changes in tax and benefits, spending cuts and the ongoing effects of the economic downturn. Beatty and Fothergill (2013) point out:
‘It is only reasonable to expect that the welfare reforms will hit the poorest parts of Britain hardest. After all, one of the reasons why some places are so poor is that they have so many people claiming benefits. On the other hand, the welfare reforms extend well beyond just those who are out-of-work to include large swathes of the employed population as well. So just how big will the impact be on different places? And just how much harder will the reforms hit the poorer parts of Britain than more prosperous areas?’ (Beatty and Fothergill 2013, p.4)
44. In their report looking at the local and regional impact of welfare reform, Beatty and Fothergill (2013) acknowledge that the figures show the impact of only those reforms that have come into full effect. The authors had not looked at the likely impact of universal credit as they considered that this is best understood as a repackaging of existing benefits, was not expected to result in a net reduction of benefit entitlement and that its impact will be felt beyond 2015.
45. However, with the lens of neglect concerns about universal credit might justifiably be less about the provision of benefit but how the benefit is paid. Individuals will be expected to apply and manage their account online, and receive monthly payments paid into a bank account. Support with housing costs will go direct to claimants as part of the monthly payment. The standard allowances will also be age-related with lower rates for younger, single individuals; the Government argues that lower rates for under 25 is because they generally have lower living costs and lower wage expectations.
46. Despite Beatty and Fothergill’s identified limitations on the data presented, their report echoed the findings of a study of the impact on London authorities of welfare reform commissioned by the Local Government Association (2013). The conclusions so far are that:
- Generally, the most deprived areas across Britain are being hit the hardest which the authors note is a ‘clear and unambiguous relationship’ (Beatty and Fothergill, p18).
- The financial loss in the areas most affected by welfare reform is twice the national average (£470) for a working adult and the loss for those in areas least affected by welfare reform is about half the national average.
- Estimates suggest that almost 60% of welfare reform reductions fall on households where somebody works, and that reductions are greater for working households than non-working households.
- The three types of areas hardest hit are the older industrial areas of England, Scotland and Wales (e.g. substantial parts of North West and North East England, Glasgow and South Wales Valleys); several seaside towns (e.g. Blackpool, Torbay, Yarmouth) and some London boroughs (e.g. Westminster and Brent)
47. Some areas are seeing much greater impacts because of the combination of high benefit dependency and high rents. It is clear that approaches that need to take to respond to welfare reform will be very different depending on local circumstances (Wilson et al. 2013). The identified routes, however, out of welfare dependency into employment or moving area could be seriously hampered if the supply of employment is not here and housing stocks are low. Indeed the early findings from Wilson et al. that working households experience greater reductions in welfare benefits is of concern. Looking behind the figures, it suggests there may be parents working hard to support their families already experiencing tight budgets subject to further reductions but with little possibilities or opportunities to change their circumstances.