Government delay to reform children's social care will cost taxpayers extra £1 billion over 10 years, warn children’s charities

Published on
23 May 2023

Barnardo's has joined with the UK's largest children's charities to call for urgent action to reform children's social care.

  • New analysis warns Government delays to reform children’s social care will cost the public finances an extra £1 billion over the next 10 years.
  • Analysis marks anniversary of Independent Review of Children’s Social Care which called for immediate investment and urgent reform.
  • Children’s charities call on Government to act now to deliver their reform programme Stable Homes, Built on Love across the country.

Government delays to reform children’s social care could have a long-term financial impact on the taxpayer, according to a new expert report commissioned by the UK’s leading children’s charities - Action for Children, Barnardo’s, The Children’s Society, the NSPCC and the National Children’s Bureau.

The analysis, undertaken by economics and advanced data consultants Alma Economics, warns that the Government is set to spend an additional £1 billion on children's social care over 10 years unless they speed up the implementation of their reform plan, Stable Homes, Built on Love.

These increased costs are largely the result of a higher number of children needing to be in care, caused by a lack of comprehensive early support during the two-year delay.

The figures demonstrate the cumulative cost of the Government’s confirmed two-year delay to implement Stable Homes Built on Love:

How much will the choice to delay fully implementing the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care by 2 years affect public finance?

Total cumulative benefits (costs) to the taxpayer

Over 10 years (2033/2034)

-£1bn

Over 20 years (2043/2044)

-£2.6bn

(Note: Positive numbers are benefits, negative numbers are costs. The figures are rounded up to the nearest 100 million and are adjusted to 2023/2024 prices.)

By 2027/28, it is forecast that 10,500 additional children will be in care due to the Government delaying implementation for two years. Although this is expected to level out at around 4,500 assuming the Government implements the Stable Homes, Built on Love strategy across England.

In addition, Alma’s analysis estimates that if the Government’s reform plans are delayed two years, as currently proposed, there will be an additional ‘social cost’ of around £500 million per year over 30 years compared to the full and timely implementation of the Care Review.

The social costs stem from a greater number of children in the care system facing lower wellbeing and a loss of productivity in later life.

The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care was published in May 2022 and called for an additional £2.6bn to address the existing crisis in children’s social care. It primarily called for a revolution in Family Help to prevent children entering care where possible, which would lead to better outcomes and allow children to stay with the families they love.

A preventative, joined-up system which supports children and families would overcome problems before they escalated. This in turn would reduce the pressure and costs on local authorities that come with having to provide statutory crisis support. Most importantly it would lead to better outcomes for some children across the country.

In February 2023, the Government published its strategy and consultation on children’s social care, Stable Homes, Built on Love, which committed to adopting most but not all the recommendations from the Care Review.

This strategy was published against a backdrop of increasing concern about the crisis in children’s social care, particularly the murders of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson. Since then, other devastating cases have come to light which demonstrate how crucial it is that children are protected and supported.

The Government approach will also see them testing reforms in a small number of local authorities, meaning that most areas will not get the changes and investment they desperately need to support and protect children for at least two years.

However, children’s charities say that what is needed in the intervening two years is immediate funding for family help services – ranging from children’s centres and youth clubs, to targeted support with issues like drug and alcohol misuse – as these mean families get help early enough to stop problems spiralling out of control.

Devon mum Helen Baker feels very lucky to have had early help for her autistic son, Sam. Ms Baker, 53, has two much older daughters and initially felt isolated when Sam, now 10, was born.

She started taking him to a parent-and-toddlers play group run by Action for Children in Paignton and it was there when Sam was around 18 months old that a support worker noticed he was not playing with other children as expected for his age and that his speech was not developing.

Helen said: “Fortunately for me my Action for Children support worker was very persistent as I couldn’t see Sam’s autism myself. I keep saying ‘No, no, no, there’s nothing wrong there.’”

After spotting the signs, the practitioners helped Helen get an autism diagnosis early and subsequently secure expert support for speech and language, and paediatrics. They also helped her apply for an education, health and care plan to set out the support Sam should receive when he started primary school.

Helen continued: “If we had not had that early help then I probably wouldn’t have picked up Sam’s autism because he is high functioning. He would’ve gone off to primary school without a diagnosis or care plan and would now be really struggling. And beyond Sam, the early help for me was also about the children’s centre being a one-stop-shop lifeline for all sorts of things during those difficult few years being a mum all over again, but this time with a child with additional needs.

“It’s not only the trained children’s social workers who really helped but the network of other mums and dads who were getting support at the same time who are now really close. They’ve all helped me because I have come out of myself, I have got more confidence. I literally can’t picture what life would have been like, and what it would be like now, had we not had that help”, she said.

Sir Peter Wanless, CEO at the NSPCC, said: One year on from the publication of the Care Review, children’s social care is still in crisis. The deep problems within the system will not go away in the next year or the year after.

“While these costs cannot now be reversed, there is still time for the Government to step up to avoid even bigger losses in the future. This Government must take bold action now to tackle this and any future Government must be ready to pick up the baton of long-term reform. That is why we are calling on all political parties to commit to a full reform of children’s social care. The children and families who need vital support deserve nothing less.”

Anna Feuchtwang, CEO at the National Children's Bureau (NCB), said: “The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care presented a once in a generation opportunity to put the voices of children, families and communities at the heart of a new coordinated and fully integrated system that would step in early to protect and nurture vulnerable children before their problems escalate. Yet one year on from its publication there is still a lack of urgency. As this report makes clear, delays in fully implementing the review’s findings risk costing the taxpayer millions of pounds more than it should. Inaction in changing systems, improving outcomes and allowing more of our children to fulfil their potential, has a human and a financial cost we cannot afford to ignore.”

Paul Carberry, Chief Executive of Action for Children, said: “Children’s social care is on its knees following a decade of cuts to council budgets. The care review has given the government a roadmap for reform, but foot-dragging and short-termism could mean the problems and the costs of the system continue to mount up.

“Our research shows how it’s short-sighted financially and deeply destructive socially not to give councils the means to properly invest in early help services that prevent problems worsening. Every day we delay reform, the costs for all of us will keep spiralling, but especially to the thousands and thousands of vulnerable children being needlessly failed every year.”

Barnardo’s CEO Lynn Perry MBE, said: Without urgent action to reform children’s social care we will miss this once in a generation opportunity to address the fundamental inequalities that exist for children who can’t live with their birth parents. It’s simply not good enough that nearly half of children in care have a mental health disorder and four in 10 young people leaving care are not in education, employment or training by the time they reach 19. 

“These figures show that the delay in implementing vital recommendations in the independent review also comes at a huge cost to the taxpayer, and we urge the Government to act now to get the system right for these children and truly start to ‘level up’ their opportunities in adulthood.”

Mark Russell, CEO of The Children's Society, said: “One year on from The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care these figures highlight the urgency for social care reform to help struggling families and children who desperately need vital support. Continued delays by the Government will mean we are stuck with a social care system that fails to intervene before problems reach crisis point and leaves too many children and young people unprotected and exposed to unacceptable risks. 

“Apart from the significant impact on children, families and society, these figures also highlight the financial burden to the taxpayer which the Government simply cannot ignore. Immediate action is required to implement the Review's findings so we can see a reformed social care system fit for purpose."