There has been a collapse of children’s services in some areas due to chronic under-investment. Councils maintain their statutory duty to protect the most vulnerable children and adults. However, due to constraints on budgets, they meet only the minimal requirements, and social workers, teachers and mental health workers often have to resort to crisis management. There is very little investment in preventative work.
Thresholds for social work intervention are so high that unless a child is at imminent risk to themselves or others, little is done. Two years ago, the Police officially stopped sending Concern Reports of low-level negative behaviours to relevant social work departments. Nothing was ever done as hard-pressed social workers were only ever able to respond to the highest levels of risk. Last year, the Association for Directors of Education similarly announced that it would only be making referrals to charities and third sector organisations in the hope of attracting support for struggling pupils and their families.
However, even third-sector organisations have been forced to reduce their volunteer-led children’s services and many have been forced to shut down, owing to a combination of public sector cuts and a reduction in public donations, resulting from more people living in poverty following the financial crash. This has drastically reduced services for children.
Children’s services themselves are fractured, under-funded and suffering from low staff morale and high levels of stress. Professionals and volunteers are under-paid and there is little training or practice learning for newly qualified Social Workers. As services are required to devote most of their time and energy to resolving crises amongst children and young people with multiple needs, they are unable to invest in long-term preventative measures that tackle root problems.
Having been let down so many times, professionals are viewed with suspicion by families. They are unable to develop meaningful, trust-based relationships with families, and are increasingly seen as part of the problem. This further decreases the morale of staff, who are trying hard to plug gaps with few resources, and know full well that more and more children are in urgent need of help.
Across England, more and more children are living in poverty, without their basic human needs being met. Professionals working in children’s services are woefully aware of this and with only a small number of high-risk children are eligible for their support the phrase no statutory reason for our involvement is habitually typed into case notes.
The Chief Executive of the national charity ‘Child Line’ told a conference last month that:
With rising levels of poverty and unemployment, increasing numbers of children are living in impoverished, neglectful and dangerous situations, where they may be subject to physical and emotional abuse.
There are few places for these children to turn.
A record number of young people have no option but to live on the street. Child homelessness has vastly increased, and given that funding for shelters and temporary housing has been cut, tens of hundreds of children are living in disused housing estates and in some areas vast tented camps have emerged that were once public parks. Lacking food, accommodation, sanitation and safety, many children in these makeshift camps are being exploited, manipulated, and forced into prostitution or selling drugs.
Education was once seen as a route out of poverty. However, the disinvestment in the education system has halted social mobility and worsened children’s outcomes. Parents initially sought to plug the gap in education funding through regular donations to schools, to pay for basic equipment - such as paper and pencils. However, parental contributions led to further reductions in education spending, leading to the closure of many schools.
School closures has led to increased competition amongst parents to move to the ‘right’ catchment area so their children can attend a ‘decent’ school. This has led to poorer families being forced out of school catchment areas, due to rising housing prices, which in turn has led to greater levels of segregation within schools - with only children from families with high earnings being able to afford to attend. Children from poorer families and those with special education needs have either stopped going to school or have been forced to move to other areas.
School curricula have been tightly focussed on targets, exams, and ‘achievement’, but with little time to focus on pupil wellbeing. Children who do not perform well, or who misbehave, are treated punitively and threatened with expulsion - indeed, waiting lists for children to enter schools (since the widespread school closures) means that competition is extremely high not only to enter, but also to maintain a place at school. Only children able to maintain high marks and educational standards are allowed to stay in school; with all children being scored on a monthly basis. Children feel increasingly pressured by a one-size-fits-all education system overwhelmingly focussed on rigorous testing and benchmarking, which negatively impacts their mental health.
State education has failed to move with the pace of the world - in particular, continuing advances in technology - and in consequence, while children work exceptionally hard to keep their places at school, the education system does not actually offer children the skills and competences required in the modern workplace. The education system is one-size-fits-all, which is all the funding will allow for. There are no support measures for children with different needs and there are no creative arts classes (i.e. drama, music, art). There is an enduring obsession with exams and curriculum and inspection reforms, which has led schools to focus exclusively on academic attainment rather than well-being.
Children in care, children with disabilities, children with learning needs, and children in poverty are more likely to struggle with the one-size-fits-all educational ‘requirements’ demanded by schools to win and maintain a place. Furthermore, there is no tailored support for such children in state schools. They are therefore more likely to be excluded from schools, despite the clear evidence over many years that children who are excluded have poorer outcomes going into adulthood.
The Children and Families Act of 2014, which tried to empower families of children with special education needs and disabilities, has long proven to be impossible to implement and tribunals are a rarity today. “What’s the point?”, one parent of a boy with special education needs complained on Twitter.
Even if I win, everyone knows, nothing will happen. There’s no money for anything to be done.Parents and workers have become resigned to that and expect little from the state.
A higher number of children facing multiple disadvantages are being excluded from education, living in poverty, homeless, suffering from mental ill-health, lacking support from alternative provision and family and children’s services, more likely to have contact with the criminal justice system and are generally excluded from society. In this way, exclusion is a rejecting act and sets many children and young people on what feels like a pre-determined path.
The National Crime Agency’s annual report in 2033 explained that it was now unable to map out ‘county drug lines’, as drug trafficking routes were literally everywhere. An increasing number of socially excluded young people have joined local criminal gangs, which have carved some of the larger English towns and cities up into different ‘zones’, leading to ‘turf wars’. Some of the more violent gang wars ways have rendered some districts ‘no go zones’.
The criminal gangs have proven attractive to many marginalised young people as they provide a degree of acceptance, protection, respect and cultural identity. Gangs also provide a source of income to young people, through stealing and selling drugs. However, young people in gangs are at increased risk of drug addiction, sexual exploitation, violence, trafficking and criminal conviction.
The employment prospects for young people are worse than they used to be. There have been consistently high levels of youth unemployment since the financial crisis, with young people unable to get on the ‘career ladder’ and having to take up insecure, zero-hours, poorly paid roles. Furthermore, state school pupils are generally ill-prepared for the future job market, where robotics and AI have replaced many administrative and routine physical tasks, leading to a retrenchment of the economy around creativity and innovation. In rough round figures, a third of state school pupils go onto vocational training, a third into work, and a third are not in education, employment or training. It is the latter group - who are not actively included in society - that are especially vulnerable to gang life.
A record number of children and young people suffer from mental ill-health, caused by chronic stress, post-traumatic disorders, loneliness, dysfunctional relationships, poor employment and housing prospects, and poor physical health. Over 65% of children and young people aged 12-24 have been diagnosed with, and sought help for a mental illness, including anxiety, depression, eating disorders, PTSD and bipolar disorder. Tragically, the suicide rate amongst young people - in particular, young men - has continued to increase year on year since 2020, and there are now over 10,000 deaths by suicide per year.
Loneliness has become a particular problem, as children and young people have become socially isolated from communities, which has fuelled a rise in drug addiction. This is especially evident in rural communities, where even fewer services are available. However, young people experiencing mental health problems or drug addictions are unable to receive support or treatment that could help them, due to the cuts to children’s services and in particular CAMHS.
There are few dedicated spaces for children and young people to socialise and support each other. Funding for youth centres has been removed as ‘non-core’ services, and public parks have been poorly maintained or taken over by homeless groups. Community infrastructure has been left to fall away, as families no longer have the time or energy to invest in their neighbourhoods and communities. As a result, children and young people have access to few community networks, free leisure activities or opportunities to volunteer and find a sense of passion and fun in life.
Children and young people are seeing less of the world. Travel is completely curtailed and package holidays are expensive and out of reach for many families. Continuing failure of several airlines has led to an increase in flight costs and pushed up prices overall.The continuing weakness of the pound makes hotels, food and tourist prohibitively expensive.
During the summer holidays, the odd day out to a nearby coastal town in England and a packed lunch on the beach is the only holiday many kids can look forward to. Kelly, one of the volunteers at the ‘Sunshine Trust’ who arranges seaside trips, says it’s ok. Throwing cheese sandwiches into bags she points out,
Many of these kids have never been off the estate, so this is like a holiday for them.However, taking shorter holidays in England, rather than going abroad, is benefiting the economy as well as the environment.
At the same time, the Government has strongly encouraged foreign tourism to England, where a weak pound means that holidays for non-Brits is economical, especially if they are staying in Airbnbs. However, this has the downside that, with an increasing number of people letting out their flats/houses to tourists through Airbnb, the rented housing stock has gone down and rental prices have gone up, leading to more families becoming homeless.
Community centres work closely with the local food banks and are often both located in the same place. Pop-up shops within church halls and disused buildings in town centres are used regularly to meet community needs.
It’s the only place to buy single nappies on a Friday to see you through the weekend
Bianca, regular at a local pop-up shop
Women have less equality. There is less affordable childcare available, so many women are having to juggle low-paid home-based work with looking after the children. The gender gap has furthermore widened due to the restructuring of the labour market, as zero-hours and fixed-term employment contracts have become standard, and people have less job security.
Racism and xenophobia have been on the increase. Ethnic and racial minority groups and people with a migrant background have been targeted by extremist political groups and media, leading to shockingly high levels of hate crimes. Many of the new youth gangs that have emerged have also made ‘hating foreigners’ their raison d’etre. Children from a BME or migrant background face extreme discrimination in all walks of life, from the education system to the job market.
Homophobia has also increased over time, undoing years of equalities gains for LGBTQIA+ communities. More and more children and young people in the LGBTQIA+ are refusing to publicly reveal their sexual orientation, and are suffering anxiety and depression as a result.