Walsall social services face ‘war on two fronts’ – Labour councillor’s claim

Welfare benefits cuts result in children being taken into care.

The budget for children in care in Walsall is set to overrun by £3.2 million after the number of youngsters deemed at risk increased by 115 over the last 12 months following changes to welfare benefit payments.

Councillors at the Children and Young People’s Scrutiny Panel meeting earlier this week were told by senior social workers that the total number of children in care now stands 590, up from 475, with increased caseloads due to changes in welfare benefits such as the bedroom tax.

Labour Shadow Cabinet Member for Children’s Services and chair of the panel, Barbara Cassidy, said councillors, social workers and senior officers faced a ‘war on two fronts’; trying to protect children as the overall council budget is cut by Government while welfare benefits changes made vulnerable people poorer and increased demand for services.

She added: “Members of all parties put politics aside last year and have worked hard to improve this vital service so it is heartbreaking to see ours and the staffs’ efforts undermined by Government cuts in relation to the improvement programme but the real victims here are the children and the families. Because of the increase of people coming to the council asking for help we now face £3.2 million overspend at a time when the council’s budgets are being cut again and again.

“It is now a matter of urgency that the council take swift and decisive action to ensure that this most sensitive of service delivery areas is set on a sound financial footing going forward into this year and beyond. If vulnerable babies, children and young people need to be protected from harm they must be as a matter of priority and this cannot be done without addressing the issue of funding. Frankly, doing nothing is not an option.”

Panel members were told that vital services delivered to families via the area support teams were under significant added pressure directly as a result of vicious cuts in welfare benefits with parents having to ask for support for basic items on a regular basis.

In an attack on supporters of welfare cuts, Labour group leader Cllr Tim Oliver, claimed the break-up of many families could be laid directly at the door of government policy. “Yet again our local communities are being hit with a double whammy. Government policies are pushing more and more families and children into poverty, and our council has to pick up the bill to support these children in need – and indeed take more children into care. Yet at the same time the coalition government is slashing the funding available to carry out this vital work to support families and to protect children. They should be ashamed of themselves.”