Debate News Council Tax ‘precept’ is inadequate, unfair and completely ignores children in care The government’s response to the crisis in adult social care funding was to announce council tax rises on Thursday. Children England says this not only fails adults but ignores the crisis for children’s social care. The social care crisis is real, urgent and demands serious government action. While sharing in society’s genuine concern for the plight of adults who rely on social care, Children England is desperately worried that the parallel funding crisis, rising demand and risk of market collapse in child protection and care is going unrecognised and unaddressed. The overwhelmed English system is already sending some of our most vulnerable children and young people to Scotland – secure units for children considered ‘high risk’ and inpatient treatment for young people with life-threatening eating disorders. A child removed from an abusive home, with no relatives or foster carer available, needs the council to ensure they have a safe place in residential care. As council funds – and consequently places in care – run out, this child could find himself or herself with a powerless ‘corporate’ parent and literally nowhere safe to go. Whilst the Public Accounts Committee has called today for central government leadership to improve child protection, the Local Government Association has warned that local authorities do not have the resources they need to meet increasing demand. Kathy Evans, Chief Executive of Children England, said: “Both child and adult social care rely entirely on council duties and funds for their survival. National government’s strategy of slashing council formula grants year after year, and cutting the poorest councils far deeper than any other area of national public spending, is directly responsible for this crisis. Council tax rises cannot be the right solution to a problem created by Whitehall.” Yesterday’s announcement fails on three important counts. Firstly, it ignores the 70,000 children who rely on social care for their safety and upbringing. We are all, as a society, responsible for children in care – any solution to adult social care that leaves the children’s services crisis untouched is simply irresponsible. Secondly, council tax rises are completely inadequate to the scale of the crisis. Even if all councils raised their council taxes as proposed, and even if it could all be gathered from their local residents and their stretched household finances, it is not close to producing enough resources to close the funding gap created by a decade of cuts to councils. Thirdly, redistribution still matters, and the council tax precept does nothing to ensure that public money is collected from those who have most to pay for those who have nothing. Council taxes are famously regressive, hitting average and low income households hardest. Council tax rises are also hardest to raise additional funds from in precisely the most deprived areas of the country where the crisis is most serious, where residents have the lowest incomes, fewest job opportunities, and where the cuts to council grants have already been the most severe. That only entrenches rather than reduces inequality, but the unfairness of this plan is even worse: under Government spending review plans there will be no more contributions at all to children’s or adults’ social care from the nation’s income taxes or corporation taxes by 2020. That makes the council tax solution not just unfair but ‘unfair squared’. It is true to say that simply ‘throwing money’ at the problem would not be enough to solve it. Systemic failures in the ‘marketplace’ of care providers requires systemic redesign, and Children England has published our own ideas for redesigning the system of national and local funding and commissioning of care for children. Kathy continued: “We cannot sleepwalk into an era when the life-saving care services that vulnerable children rely on are left entirely to the inconsistencies of local council tax and business rate collection. Leaders must urgently grasp and avert this prospect. “ Ends Editor’s notes Children England is the independent voice of the children and families voluntary sector, established nearly 75 years ago and representing children’s charities both local and national. Visit childrenengland.org.uk for more information. The Association of Directors of Children’s Services warned of unsustainable funding streams for councils last week: http://www.communitycare.co.uk/2016/12/07/unstable-funding-childrens-social-care-hitting-services/ Our member the Independent Children’s Homes Association warned this week of the crisis facing children’s residential care: http://www.cypnow.co.uk/cyp/news/2002898/childrens-residential-care-facing-funding-crisis. Minister for Communities and Local Government Sajid Javid announced next year’s funding settlement for local government on Thursday 15th December 2016: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/provisional-local-government-finance-settlement-2017-to-2018. The Public Accounts Committee reported on 16th December on government's failure to improve child protection services since 2010.