Children England responds to the government's Autumn Statement 2022

Children England welcomes several measures in the Autumn Statement that acknowledge the cost of living crisis hitting families. Some, such as uprating benefits in line with 10.1% inflation and increasing the minimum wage to £10.42, are simply the right thing to do by a government that wants households to remain afloat as costs rise. Others, such as ongoing support for energy bills and a 7% cap on social rents, will protect some of the most vulnerable households from the very worst damage of rising bills in the short- to medium-term.

But to describe these measures as generous or thorough would be disingenuous: for families already struggling, any increase at all threatens to push them over the financial cliff, and even a 7% increase in rent will be crippling. And for the more than four million households in private rented accommodation, no protection at all will be available as landlords raise rents. Similarly, younger workers will not be entitled to the full minimum wage that the government recognises workers over 25 will need to meet the cost of living - despite paying the same costs.

And at the forefront of parents’ minds as they consider their own budgets will not be how they pay the bills next April, but how they pay the bills mounting up right now. Wages are at a historic low, while childcare and housing costs are at historic highs - yet government does not have a strategic vision for an economy in which family incomes can cover these essentials. While government attributes poverty to worklessness, it has been evident for several years that most children in poverty are in working households, and those households are now turning to unaffordable personal debt, food banks, switching off heating and sending children to school with empty stomachs and unwashed clothes. They are facing a long, cold winter before the spring, if the Chancellor’s new fiscal policies offer any hope.

Meanwhile, local authorities’ pleas for a sustainable long-term funding settlement seem to have been ignored yet again, and the threat of cuts simply pushed further down the road. As we and many others have noted before, council tax rises are a regressive way to increase local budgets and will only exacerbate inequalities between areas instead of ‘levelling up’. If the government is serious about the redistribution suggested by levelling up, and its belief that a strong economy needs good public services, then it should value spending on public services as investment, not a cost, and be confident in its responsibility for investing national taxation equitably in services across the country. Instead it has abdicated that responsibility, leaving councils to try and make Solomon's choices between demanding more money from already-stretched families or withdrawing services as inflation hits; and between spending an inadequate social care budget on vulnerable adults or vulnerable children. These are politically-created false binaries, avoidable if the government genuinely believed in a compassionate Britain and a strong economy. 

We welcome new investment in schools. But we fear for all those other services and community infrastructure that children need to thrive, and which are still facing demands to find 'efficiencies' despite every possible such saving already having been made over the last ten years - and whose pressures Children England described exactly ten years ago in our report Perfect Storms. Public and voluntary services will continue to try and reach every family with the support they need, but in the face of inflation spiralling upwards, the ability of the children and families sector to maintain that safety net looks set to continue spiralling downwards.

CEO Kathy Evans says:

"Advocacy bodies are urgently providing government with data on the state of the voluntary sector as it responds to increasing social need with ever more thinly-stretched budgets, and we urge ministers to respond with the emergency support needed rather than taking for granted that voluntary action will supplant state support indefinitely."


Children England's 'state of the sector' diagram for Perfect Storms, September 2012:

Perfect Storms diagram - spaghetti meatballs