Last Friday, I found myself sitting on the Good Morning Britain couch next to Iain Dale, former Conservative parliamentary candidate and LBC radio host. We were asked about new evidence that has come to light in the case of Jonty Bravery – the eighteen-year-old boy who threw a six-year-old French boy off the viewing gallery of the Tate modern.
The segment focused on a recording of a discussion that took place a year before the horrific events at the Tate. With a chilling detachment, Bravery states unemotionally that he would like to kill someone by throwing them off a tall building so that he would be sent to prison for the crime. His carer attempted to escalate the issue but no action appears to have been taken and, one year later, Bravery was allowed to go out unsupervised and travel to the Tate, where he committed the attack in broad daylight.
We do not know the details of the case or why swifter action was not taken by Bravery’s carers. The care provider, Spencer & Arlington, a private company, may not have had the correct processes in place or staff may have failed to follow procedure. Alternatively, the recording may have simply slipped through the cracks. But what we do know is that the people caring for society’s most vulnerable children are hugely overstretched as a result of the massive cuts to local authority funding over the past ten years.
The central government grant provided to local authorities has been cut by nearly 50 per cent since 2010 placing frontline care services provided by local authorities under huge amounts of pressure. At the same time, cuts to other public services and social security have led to increases in child poverty – there are half a million more children living in poverty today than in 2010 – which has been associated with rising demand for these services. Shockingly, the number of children in care rose from 59,400 to 75,420 between 2008 and 2018.
Some of the most vulnerable children in the UK – those who have been abandoned by their parents, those with severe mental and physical health problems, and those vulnerable to acute violence – are being failed by the British state. Some of these problems are longstanding. The increasing involvement of private corporations in the provision of social care, low pay and a lack of workforce training in the sector, and the lack of communication between different service providers are just some of the issues that have been compromising the quality of local authority provided care for decades.
But nearly all the experts agree that the cuts have made a bad situation worse. As I pointed out on Good Morning Britain, the Children’s Commissioner for England – a non-departmental appointment responsible for protecting and promoting the rights of children – has argued that increasing numbers of children are ‘falling through the gaps’ in the care system as a result of cuts to preventative services. Early intervention is being sacrificed in favour of acute services for those with the most severe needs – 50 per cent of children’s social care budgets are now spent on just 73,000 children.
Jonty Bravery is likely to have been one of these 73,000 children but that does not mean that his carers will have been insulated from the effects of the cuts. Children’s social care professionals deal with children with incredibly complex and acute needs but they are being placed under increasing pressure by a system that was described by the cross-party Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee as stretched to ‘breaking point’. Research conducted by the British Association of Social Workers found that two thirds of social workers – in both adult’s and children’s social care – wanted to leave their jobs in the next 16 months as a result of stress, rising workloads and insufficient support.
The state of our children’s social care services should be a national scandal but is only when the failures of these services lead to high profile deaths that the press takes any interest in children’s social care. You are more likely to read about the impact local authority cuts have had on bin collection than you are care services.
When I raised these issues on GMB, Dale dismissed my claims – based on mountains of evidence – as ‘utter rubbish’ before storming out of the studio after two minutes because he wasn’t given a fair hearing. The drama of the episode sparked a backlash online – but the ire was directed towards me rather than Dale. Interrupting a man is apparently a worse sin than ignoring the plight of tends of thousands of children being failed by our social care system.
Since my appearance, several care workers have been in touch with me to say how happy they were that the cuts to children’s social care were finally gaining national attention. They have told me some horrific stories of the cases they have dealt with, the working conditions they face, and the children who end up slipping through the cracks as a result. If our media spent more time listening to these frontline professionals and less time commenting on the ridiculous pseudo-events that take place on Good Morning Britain, the state of our care services would be generating the attention it deserves.