Tim Loughton warns failure to invest in children’s social care is ‘false economy’

The cost of child neglect is £15 billion every year, an MP has told the Commons.

Tory MP Tim Loughton said failing to spend more on prevention was “a false economy” as he opened a debate on caring for vulnerable children.

The former junior children’s minister said the situation was “approaching crisis point” and appealed for the Chancellor to invest in children’s social care.

He said: “It’s a false economy not to be doing it because … the cost of perinatal mental health, getting it wrong, is just over £8 billion, and the cost of child neglect is £15 billion a year.

“We are spending £23 billion a year getting it wrong for new mothers and early children as well.

“That’s a heck of an amount of money going on failure, frankly.”

Mr Loughton highlighted cuts to NHS health visitors “who often act as an early warning system to safeguard children” from 10,309 in October 2015 to 7,982 by April 2018.

The East Worthing and Shoreham MP said there was a link between the cuts and figures showing 24.2% of children referred for support who have been turned away.

He added: “It’s apparent that universal services for children continue to bear the brunt of public health service cuts.

“It’s both astonishing and extremely worrying that the visionary work of David Cameron’s government to increase the number of health visitors across England by 50% between 2012 and 2015 – which was achieved – could have been undone so quickly.

“Especially as the evidence for the importance of the very early years impacting on an individual’s future health and well-being is now so strong.”

Mr Loughton set out how half of England’s entire children’s services budget is spent on the 75,420 children in care as of March last year, leaving the remaining half for the country’s 11.5 million vulnerable children, including those with learning disabilities.

He said child protection inquiries rose 140% in 2016 and the number of children needing a child protection plan “almost doubled”.

Worse, Mr Loughton said, are reports that the number of children suffering sexual exploitation is rising.

He said: “A Barnardo’s report found 16% of children referred to their fostering services had suffered sexual exploitation.

“There’s increasing evidence to show that actually police, teachers and social workers are saying there has been an increase in particularly vulnerable children in the last five years.

“So we’ve got more children coming in to the care system, often with more complex problems requiring more intensive support, and we have got much less going on intervening early to try and keep them out of the care system as well – hence I don’t think it’s an overstatement, my earlier statement about a potentially impending crisis.”

Winding up the proceedings, children’s minister Nadhim Zahawi praised Mr Loughton for securing the debate, telling MPs: “Nothing is more important than the work we do so that vulnerable children are identified early and get the support they need to keep them safe.”

He apologised as he ran out of time to address all of the issues raised in the chamber, and said he would write to members individually to discuss matters further.

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