Budget 2016 is a chance to set the tone for the years to come

Posted by Dan Breslin / Tuesday 15 March 2016 / Government spending Early intervention

On Wednesday the Chancellor will make the short journey from No. 11 Downing St. to the House of Commons. Unlike a certain Chancellor before him, there isn’t much chance he will have forgotten to pack his speech in the famous red box.

Nowadays much of the Budget’s content is subject to fervent speculation and rumour long before the speech is delivered. We already know the Chancellor has talked about more difficult decisions that need to be made.

The Budget is an opportunity for the Government to make positive announcements and show where priorities lie for the years ahead. It is an opportunity to show that talk of improving children’s life chances will be backed up by funding to make it a reality.

The Prime Minister has said that parenting classes in the early years should be as common place as antenatal classes. This is great to hear, but there will need to be funding behind this if every family will benefit. 

We know how important the early years are for children’s futures, and giving parents the right tools and skills to help their children develop and be ready to start school is key.  Parents have told us that classes need to take different forms for different parents, and they want to feel comfortable about seeking advice at the right time for them

But if we really want to see an improvement in life chances, then the Government will have to dig deep and put extra resources into those communities where children are falling behind. Especially in the early years.

We know too many children in the most deprived communities are sadly not reaching levels of development we should expect. There are too many who reach age five and are not school ready. Investment in making sure these children don’t fall behind would make a big difference. For example, helping parents to create the best environment at home for children to learn and explore as they develop and grow.

New initiatives like more parenting classes are a good idea. Yet those services children and parents already rely on across the country must also be funded by national government. Our recent report with NCB and The Children’s Society, Losing in the long run, shows that central government funding for services like children’s centres and young people services is set to fall by 71 per cent between 2010 and 2020. This is a significant fall, and raises important questions about how possible it will be for local authorities to keep providing activities and programmes for parents and children in their area.

Local authorities will gain new responsibilities for funding local services in the next few years. As a result of this the early intervention grant will be phased out. The changes bring opportunities but also risks. We can’t afford to see services that step in early to stop problems escalating become the victim to challenging local economic circumstances.

The Budget offers the chance for the Chancellor to commit to an early intervention top up as recommended in our report. Based on local need and circumstances, this would be a crucial boost to local services at a time when budgets are getting tighter and decisions are becoming tougher.

When the Chancellor holds up the Red Box outside No 11 to reassure everyone he has his speech, let’s hope he hasn’t left behind the chance to make a difference to children and families. 

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