Northumberland council chiefs 'cannot say' if there is a link between universal credit and increase in child protection plans

Northumberland County Council says it cannot say if there is a link between the roll-out of universal credit and increases in child protection plans.

Monday, 13th January 2020, 3:03 pm
Updated Monday, 13th January 2020, 11:13 pm
Picture c/o PA

A report following analysis of activity trends within the social work system to evaluate if there was a link between increased need and the launch of Universal Credit was presented to a meeting of the authority’s family and children’s services committee.

It followed a previous meeting where members heard about an increase over the last two years in the numbers of young people who are subject to child protection plans (CPPs). Children are made subject to CPPs if they have suffered significant harm, such as neglect, physical or sexual abuse, and are at continuing risk of this harm.

The latest report, which was sparked by a request from Coun Scott Dickinson, concluded: ‘As we do not have access to the individual claimant-level data on universal credit, we cannot say that there is a link between it and these increases in need.

‘However, it is clear that since the date when universal credit was launched, we have seen some increase in the number of cases that are being managed using the higher levels of intervention, ie CPPs and LAC (looked-after children). This was not as apparent in the summer as it is now.

‘However, we are not in a position to make a judgement about causation or any direct links between universal credit and demand on children’s social care.’

Coun Dickinson, Labour’s deputy leader, was disappointed with what was presented, while accepting some of it was to do with the fact that the council didn’t have access to the relevant data.

“I know people think it was political, but it was about trying to separate the general CPP requirements and those that are linked to short-term pressures because of the roll-out of a new policy,” he added.

Cath McEvoy-Carr, the council’s executive director of children’s services, said: “It has been a useful exercise for us, even if it didn't provide the answers you were looking for.”

She also explained that the threshold for a CPP is fairly high and that they are usually the result of a ‘myriad of issues’.

Given that the local authority does not have access to the universal credit data at individual claimant level, officers analysed proxy measures, ‘as we may have expected to have seen an increase in referrals to early help and the social work service and we may also have expected to have seen an increase in section 17 payments to financially support families’.

But ‘this analysis has not shown any significant or sustained increases in any of these areas’.

The report adds: ‘While financial pressures, including receipt of universal credit, may increase stress for families, it is difficult to directly link this to the increase in numbers subject to a child protection plan or looked-after children.

‘There are a variety of reasons why a child or young person may become subject to a CPP or be placed in care.

‘When we have audited such cases, the key question has been, was the decision the most appropriate one for that individual, and in the large majority of cases, the audits judged that it was.’

Concerns over national picture

The meeting came on the same day as the Local Government Association (LGA) reported that new figures show the number of children in care has risen by 28 per cent in the past decade.

The LGA is warning that this huge increase in demand is combining with funding shortages to put immense pressure on the ability of councils to support vulnerable children and young people and provide the early help that can stop children and families reaching crisis point in the first place.

According to the latest data, councils have also seen a 53% increase in children on CPPs - an additional 18,160 children - in the past decade.

Coun Judith Blake, chairman of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “These figures show the sheer scale of the unprecedented demand pressures on children’s services and the care system this decade.

“This is unsustainable. Councils want to make sure that children can get the best, rather than just get by, and that means investing in the right services to reach them at the right time.

“Councils need to be given a seat at the table for the care system review, alongside children, families and partners, to make sure this looks at what really matters and what can really make a difference."

Caption: Labour’s deputy leader, Coun Scott Dickinson.