Published on
27 November 2020

Shocking new figures from the UK’s leading children’s charities have today revealed funding available for children’s services has fallen by a third per child in England since 2010¹.

The new analysis of official figures by Action for Children, Barnardo’s, NSPCC, The Children’s Society and the National Children’s Bureau has identified “kids’ cuts hotspots” across England – where local councils have faced the biggest real-term drop² in this funding.

Councils in London have suffered the largest cuts, with the top five worst-hit all in the capital. Westminster tops the list with funding slashed by more than half (51%), followed by Tower Hamlets (49%), Camden (49%), Newham (46%) and Hackney (46%).

Children’s services are a lifeline for many families but they have been cut back
Children's services are a lifeline for many families but they have been cut back

Yet the problem stretches far beyond London. Areas such as Manchester (45% drop), Nottingham (43%) and Birmingham (43%) also made it into the country’s top twenty “kids’ cuts hotspots”.

Councils are facing a £3 billion funding gap for children’s services by 20253, with many services having already been stripped back or shut down. Over 1,000 children’s centres have closed since 20094, while 760 youth centres have shut since 20125. The charities are warning that thousands more children and young people could fall into crisis if these cuts continue.

Mum of four, Victoria Brooks, 40, from Woodford Halse in Northamptonshire, received more than 10 years of support from her nearby children’s centre with her two sons who have severe physical and learning disabilities. The council was forced to close the service to meet savings targets set by central government.

She said: “The support I used to get at the Action for Children centre in my village was an absolute lifeline. They were there to help me with anything I needed bringing the boys up – including helping me liaise with doctors to get the right diagnoses, securing appointments, signposting me to advice, and, critically, for giving me the confidence and emotional support I needed. I was even able to check in with the workers over the phone in the evenings and weekends if it was an emergency.

“If I hadn’t had their help, I’m sure I would’ve ended up with severe depression, or something worse – I can’t really picture what those early years would have been like for us a family without them. When you have children with serious additional needs, you want to blame yourself. You know deep down it’s not your fault but having professionals you trust nearby to support you meant everything. When my children’s centre closed, that all disappeared.

“Since then there’s been an enormous pressure on my family, particularly when I have to rely on my fifteen-year-old daughter to help care for her brothers. I’m really conscious it’s not fair on her and it pains me she’s having to take on such a responsibility during her critical teenage years.”

Far too often families are reaching crisis point

Javed Khan

Barnardo's Chief Executive

Javed Khan says Barnardo's sees the impact of the failure to step in early
Javed Khan says Barnardo's sees the impact of this failure to step in early

Barnardo's Chief Executive Javed Khan said: 

“We have long warned about the ‘perfect storm’ in children’s social care. In every community children face growing challenges, from knife crime and gangs, to cyber-bullying and online grooming, to a crisis in mental health. It’s even harder for families struggling to make ends meet. And in many areas the services they once relied on just aren’t there anymore.

“As a result, far too often families are reaching crisis point – with rising numbers of children being taken into local authority care. At Barnardo’s we see the impact of this failure to step in early. Children are suffering from trauma, affecting their education, health and happiness, with lifelong impact.

 “That’s why we’re calling on the Government to step in with additional funds so that communities can support local children and parents in need of help.

“But we also need to spend those resources wisely. That’s why Barnardo’s is  taking a radical new approach - working with national and local partners and investing our own resource to co-design and deliver services that change children’s lives, and the system around them, for the better.”

Chief executive at Action for Children, Julie Bentley, said: “Children’s services are at breaking point and these alarming figures reveal the true scale of the devastating and dangerous funding cuts made year after year by successive governments.

“Every day at Action for Children we see that children’s services can be a lifeline for families – from helping mums suffering with post-natal depression or families struggling to put food on the table, to spotting children quietly living in fear of domestic abuse or neglect. Thousands of families across the country rely on these services to step in and stop problems spiralling out of control.

“With the number of child protection cases and children being taken into care at their highest for a decade6, it’s unthinkable to continue forcing councils to make crippling cuts to services. Without urgent cash from central government, thousands more children at risk of neglect and abuse will slip through the cracks and into crisis.”

Councils face a toxic cocktail of funding cuts and soaring demand for help
 Councils face a toxic cocktail of funding cuts and soaring demand for help   

Despite cuts to funding for children’s services, many councils have sought to protect this area as best they can – with spending falling by less than the funding drop7. Councils may be making up the difference by drawing on reserves or slashing spending on other areas – but the charity alliance stressed neither approach is sustainable in the long term.

Chief executive at The Children’s Society, Nick Roseveare, said: “Vulnerable children are continuing to pay the price as councils face a toxic cocktail of funding cuts and soaring demand for help.  This shocking analysis lays bare the enormous scale of this funding challenge, which is making it near impossible for councils to offer vital early support to children and young people to prevent problems escalating.

“Funding cuts are not only an inhumane economy, they are also a false one.  The reductions in early help for children they lead to simply intensify the need for more costly interventions further down the road - like taking children into care as they face growing risks, including everything from substance misuse and mental health problems, to repeatedly going missing, and being sexually or criminally exploited.

“The Government now faces a stark choice at the next Spending Review: either continue to leave councils short of the money they need to keep children safe, or address the funding gap and give some of our most vulnerable young people hope of a brighter future.”



¹ Funding available per child and young person for all children’s services except schools and early education fell from £813 in 2010-11 to £553 in 2017-18.

Our approach to modelling funding available for children and young people’s services is to take a baseline year and assume that spending on children and young people’s services in that year was equivalent to the funding available. Funding for other years is then modelled by assuming that the proportion of overall spending power which is available for children and young people’s services, remains consistent over time. For this report we used 2010/11 as the ‘baseline’ year, and modelled funding for children and young people’s services over the following years accordingly.

The amount available per child is the amount of estimated available funding for children and young people’s services divided by the mid-year population figure for the relevant year.

“Kids’ cuts hotspots” map

² Adjusted to take inflation into account

³ Local Government Association

4 The Sutton Trust

5 UNISON – Youth Services at Breaking Point (December 2018)

Since 2010, there has been a 7% increase in referrals to children’s social care services, a 26% increase in the number of children subject to a child protection plan and a 17% increase in the number of children in care. Department for Education (2011) Children looked after in England including adoption: 2010 to 2011