Austerity and rising poverty has led to the number of vulnerable children being taken into care or placed on child protection plans increasing for the fifth year in succession, experts have said.
Provisional data, using official statistics and fresh figures obtained under Freedom of Information (FOI), show that the number of at-risk children being looked after by the state rose by 8%, or 5,000, under the coalition government.
The number of youngsters placed on child protection plans – meaning they are closely monitored by social workers to ensure their safety – rose by 33% to 52,000 over the same period, while the number of “section 47 inquiries” – to determine whether individual children are being abused or neglected – increased by 42% to 159,000.
Child protection experts said this increase in demand had put huge pressure on the finances of social workers’ and children’s services departments at a time when local authority budgets had been cut by 40%.
Alison O’Sullivan, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said the rise child protection activity was in part down to the impact of austerity and welfare cuts on the poorest families.
She told the Guardian: “What we are seeing is a consequence of austerity over an extended period. Pressures on the benefit system and the way it washes through will have a great impact on these families, many of whom were struggling in the first place.”
It seems that Hilton Dawson has a history of triumphing against the odds.
The native Northumbrian has twice overcome substantial Tory power bases at council and parliamentary level to get into office.
That was in the North West where he lived and worked for around 20 years.
Now back home, he hopes to repeat his David and Goliath act at the next general election in May with the North East party he helped form and is chairman of.
And this time three of the four seats his party are contesting at Easington, Redcar, Stockton North and Newcastle North are held by Labour with who he was a member for 30 years.
But he doesn’t see it as a betrayal of his political roots, just loyalty to his personal roots.
“There isn’t anyone who stands up for the North East directly,” he said.
“My experience of parliament and working with national policy makers is that huge decisions are made in London by people who don’t know about the region.
“We need to get these big decisions – about jobs, housing, health, wellbeing, transport – made here.”
To do this, it aims to secure devolved powers similar to those enjoyed by Scotland and Wales.
“We want real powers to borrow and invest, which will produce high-quality integrated public services,” Hilton said.
“In Scotland in particular, they have far better public services than we do a few miles south over the border.”
The idea for it was born out of a debate in 2013 at the Newcastle Lit & Phil Society about whether it was time for ‘Wor Party’. A lot of people attending thought it was.
The North East Party was officially registered last May. It had its first annual general meeting in June then in December after a three day meeting it thrashed out its manifesto.
Read what you will into the fact these discussions took place in a room above a funeral home in Shotton Colliery.
“Very salubrious surroundings,” laughed Hilton at the memory but he is very pleased with the result and hopes to cause as much of a stir as his first attempt to change things as an eight-year-old schoolboy.
Born in Mona Taylor’s Maternity Home in Stannington, his parents were both teachers. He was raised in Newbiggin-by-the-Sea where he was a pupil at Moorside First, locally known as the Colliery School.
It was there he recalls he became second in command in a pupils protest about the state of the school’s food.
“The soup was particularly terrible that day,” said Hilton.
“We marched up and down the playground all over dinner time. We all really enjoyed it.”
The Head, Mr Kirsopp (none of the kids knew his first name, of course), “emerged lugubriously at the end of lunch time” recalled Hilton.
“We looked at him with some trepidation then he ceremonially rang the bell and we went inside. Nothing more was said about it.”
This obviously whetted his appetite. After later completing his studies at Ashington Grammar School he gained a place at Warwick University to study philosophy and politics.
“Philosophy to understand the world and politics to change it,” he said.
Hilton recalled Warwick as a bit of a political hotbed in the 1960s with plenty of sit-ins and protests.
It was after his first year there he married Susan, who he met at school.
After graduating they went to stay for a time on a Kibbutz in Israel.
“We wanted to experience a collective way of life. We had idealistic expectations of it. The work was very hard but rewarding.”
Then they returned home as Susan was pregnant with their first child, Catherine.
He found work at the Choppington Social Welfare Centre, moving into a council house in Scotland Gate.
“It was one of the most educational experiences of my life,” said Hilton.
“I worked with the people of the community on many fantastic things. I was part of this rough, tough, incredibly warm hearted community organising anything from play groups for youngsters to events for the older residents, working with the people there to make things happen.
“At different times I would run the bar, put three tons of coal in the central heating, paint the walls, but most important of all I learned how to talk to people.
“The teachers’ son grew up an enormous amount.”
Having worked with social workers on projects there he became interested in the profession, getting a job at Bedlington.
“The attitude of people on the estate changed straight away. While they were still friendly it was a case of you’re a social worker now, there’s a difference.”
Hilton said he worked with a fantastic team determined to make a difference to the community and it was when he became involved in mainstream politics, joining the Labour party in 1978.
“The university anarchist saw at Choppington what a group of dedicated local politicians were doing for the community,” he said.
Hilton got onto a well respected course at Lancaster University.
“It was the top place to go,” he said. “It had the Centre for Youth Crime and The Community.”
He and wife Susan packed their bags and with daughter Catherine headed to the North West.
Soon after his second daughter Helen was born.
“She always says you lot speak funny. She is from the North West the rest of us are from the North East,” said Hilton.
He got heavily involved in child care and child protection issues, managing children’s homes as well as fostering and adoption services.
He worked his way up to social work manager, on call 24 hours a day.
“I could be called out at any time of the night dealing with all sorts of matters – a child on the roof, what are we going to do about it. Six kids who need housing now at 2am. It was stressful but I loved the job.”
His job resulted in a lot of community involvement and he decided to stand in the Lancaster City Council elections for the Ryelands ward in 1987.
“It had always been Tory and no-one ever understood why – it had a huge housing estate on it,” said Hilton.
The penny eventually dropped that while Tory supporters would vote come election day, hardly anybody from the estate ever did.
After much canvassing, that changed.
“It was one of the most seminal moments of my life,” said Hilton. “A huge phalanx of people came out of the estate to vote, knocking on doors as they went to persuade other people to vote.”
Hilton won the ward for Labour.
Then 10 years later in 1997 he stood for parliament in the Lancaster and Wyre constituency, formed after boundary changes from the old Lancaster constituency.
Since the Second World War Lancaster had been won by the Tories at every election bar the 1966 poll.
“No-one expected us to win,” he said.
“The media, even an eminent professor of politics. told me I had no chance.
“But I’d learned if you just engage with people, have a clear message and work hard at the grass roots you can win,” he said.
After winning the seat after a re-count he became well known for his championing of child related issues – he was named the 2004 Children’s Champion in the House of Commons – however it led to run ins with party bosses.
He objected to its policies on asylum seekers suggesting they be refused benefits would see their children left destitute.
Hilton described it as “immoral” in a Commons debate.
And then there the Iraq war – “a terrible time,” he recalled.
Hilton was one of the Labour MPs who backed a rebel backbench amendment that the case for war with Iraq was “unproven”.
So while he loved his first four years in Parliament, his enthusiasm waned considerably after he was re-elected, again after a recount, in 2001.
By 2005 he had decided it was time to move on and quit before the general election to return to children’s services.
He became CEO of Shaftesbury Young People which works for children both in care and in need and later chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers.
In the meantime he had returned to his native North East, he and wife Susan buying a house in Warkworth which boasts a spectacular view of Warkworth Castle.
“I found I was able to commute to London from Alnmouth which is on the East Coast mainline.”
He also found time to fight for the Lynemouth and Ellington seat in the 2008 Northumberland County Council elections.
“It was the only safe Labour seat I have ever fought – and I got whupped,” said Hilton ruefully.
“I had the arrogance to think I could do it all in a month thinking I could repeat what I did in Ryelands over a much shorter period of time.
“It proved a very important political lesson.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 31 Jan 2015
Saving councils cash is driving a rise in fast-track child adoptions in the North, an MP has claimed.
The British Association of Social Workers has launched an inquiry into why adoption in the North East has shot up by 26% in the last year after Blyth MP Ronnie Campbell highlighted concerns about the issue.
He believes dwindling numbers of under-pressure social workers are spending less time trying to keep families together and that councils, navigating central Government cuts, are pushing adoptions.
It comes as the Department for Education revealed the number of adoptions increased to 390 in 2013/14 from 290 the previous year.
Local authorities say they are doing all they can to keep parents and their children in a unit, and any claim adoption was used as a money-saving measure is “completely wrong”.
Mr Campbell said:
“I think it is about money at the end of the day. It is cheaper to adopt than it is to foster a child.
“We should be helping parents to get back on the straight and narrow.
“I have seen parents who have turned themselves around.
“Because of all the cuts, social services don’t seem to be there to help anymore. I don’t see why adoption has to be the be all and end all.”
He added social workers may also be afraid to manage intervention in the wake of some high profile cases, such as the failure of Haringey Children’s Services in the lead up to the death of 17-month-old Peter Connelly, who suffered appalling abuse at home.
Mr Campbell said:
“With Baby P and everything that came out, I think our social workers are frightened of their own job.
“Adoption is the easy option and it doesn’t cost the council anything. If you foster a child it is costing rate payers £500 a week. Why can we not try and keep the family together and help the mothers to bring themselves round.”
Bridget Robb, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers, said quick decisions were being made to get children out of the public care system.
“Due to the impact of austerity, many services which have been around in local communities to support children and their birth families are no longer around as they have closed due to lack of money. This makes it harder to provide the help those families need to stay together.
“Our current UK adoption legislation enables children to be adopted without the consent of their parents. This aspect of the legislation is being increasingly used to speed up the adoption process. While there are extreme circumstances where this may be necessary, its widespread use is causing us real concern as a profession.”
In Gateshead the number of looked after children adopted leapt from 15 in 2013 to 35, while there was an increase of 25 looked after children adopted in Newcastle to hit 60 in 2014.
In County Durham, adoptions shot up to 75 from 40, while in Middlesbrough, Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside and Sunderland the figures remained the same.
In Darlington, the number of adoptions doubled from 10 to 20, while the number rose by five to 15 in both Hartlepool and Redcar and Cleveland. In Stockton-on-Tees, the number rose by ten to 30.
Councils stressed adoption was a last resort and had to be agreed by a court.
A Newcastle City Council spokesman admitted all services were coming under pressure, but said:
“It is totally wrong and misinformed to suggest that adoption is in some way a replacement for adequate social care support to families. Adoption is a way to provide a loving family home for children who cannot be cared for by their natural parents for a whole host of reasons. For many of these children the alternative would be a childhood spent in local authority care. Newcastle City Council is proud of the fact that it is giving more children the best possible start in life by increasing the numbers of adoptions, and this is something we will continue to try to do.
“At the same time, through the Newcastle Families Programme, the council is working with a range of partners in the city to provide intensive support to families who find themselves in trouble, providing the help and challenge they need to turn their lives around. The programme is one of the most successful in the country – helping around 300 families a year to overcome difficulties and get back on the right track.
“Government cuts and rising costs are forcing councils to make difficult decisions about services. Newcastle City Council has ensured that service to vulnerable people have been prioritised to avoid the deepest cuts, but it is true that these services are coming under increasing pressure.”
Karen Robb, strategic manager, looked after children and permanence at Durham County Council, said:
“We will always work with families to see if the children can remain with their parents or another family member. Where this is not possible children are only adopted after we have received a mandate from the courts where they are satisfied that there is no possibility of the birth parents or extended families being able to provide satisfactory care.
“We actively ensure that children who cannot live within their own families are placed permanently with their new families as quickly as possible.”
Councillor Angela Douglas, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People at Gateshead added:
“We are committed to achieving the best outcomes for our children and young people and we know that for some children the best way to achieve this is through providing new forever families.
“Placing a child with adoptive parents only ever happens if it is felt by everyone that this would be in the best interests of that child. No other factors are involved in that decision.
“To suggest that adoption is taking place as a money-saving measure – and that the specific needs of that child are therefore being ignored – is completely wrong.”
Newcastle MP Catherine McKinnell said:
“There’s no doubt that the number of children in care in the region has risen over recent years, with over 500 children in the care of Newcastle Council alone.
“This comes at a huge cost not just to the local authority and society at large, but also to the children themselves as those who’ve grown up in care have historically had significantly worse outcomes.
“Clearly, it’s vital for local authorities and other organisations to provide early intervention services to support troubled families, in order to prevent family breakdowns and children being taken into care in the first place.
“But for those children already in care, I support moves to help them find permanent, secure, loving and stable families, and an increase in adoption rates – where it is appropriate for each individual child – is a positive step.”
Source – Sunday Sun, 16 Nov 2014
Foodbank bosses fear there will be a huge rise in hand-outs during the school holidays as desperate families struggle to feed their children who would have received free school meals.
Families picked up almost a TONNE of goods from Hartlepool Foodbank in the first week of the school holidays.
The foodbank, in Church Street, usually hands out around half that amount each week to families on the breadline struggling to make ends meet.
But on the day many town schools broke up for their six-week break, volunteers at the Foodbank dished out more than 30 parcels to feed families.
Hartlepool Foodbank manager Al Wales said: “We were very busy this time last year, but as it was our first summer in operation it is difficult to say that is purely down to the school holidays as there are no previous figures to compare it to.
“But there is no doubt that the school holidays are a key factor in the increase in parcels we give out.
“Children who normally have their lunch at school are now at home, and they need to be fed.
“So the families are having to get more food than they normally would.
“We were extremely busy last Friday, and the collection on the Tuesday was also quite large.
“On a busy week, we can hand out about half a tonne of food across the week. “Last Friday, we did that in one day.”
The Foodbank opens twice a week, for two hour periods on Tuesdays and Fridays.
People deemed to be in need of handouts are referred to the Foodbank by health professionals, social workers or other agency staff.
Al added: “We carried out a collection in Morrisons recently because we knew we would be busy during the summer.
“The schools help us with regular donations, but when they are on holiday they obviously drop off.
“We’re well stocked, and we’re coping, but obviously more donations are always welcomed.”
Source – Hartlepool Mail, 26 July 2014
A trade union boss in South Tyneside has spoken of his fears that some of his members are having to rely on food banks to make ends meet.
As public sector workers prepare for a day of unprecedented industrial action in the borough tomorrow, Merv Butler, branch secretary of Unison South Tyneside, offered a staunch defence of the action, saying his members had continued to provide services on the ground despite “draconian Government cuts”.
Strikes by council workers, school staff and firefighters are set to cause disruption to people across the borough tomorrow.
Mr Butler says it is “likely” that some of his membership have resorted to food banks to make ends meet, although he knows of no specific cases locally.
Carers, social workers, refuse collectors, street cleaners and teaching assistants are among thousands of local council and school support workers in South Tyneside striking as part of a nationwide action over pay.
Mr Butler says a pay freeze imposed by the Coalition Government in 2010, 2011 and 2012 – and below-inflation rises in eight of the last 17 years – has sent the pay packets of local government and school workers “plummeting back to the level of the 1990s”.
He said: “Many council workers in South Tyneside have been left struggling to get by, with some, no doubt, relying on food banks, second jobs and in-work benefits to make ends meet.
“This year’s offer would result in a cumulative real-term cut of almost 20 per cent for more than a million local government and school workers.”
Unison is urging the employers to get back to the negotiating table with an offer that recognises the “invaluable contribution members make to their local communities”.
Mr Butler added: “Council workers have kept on going in the face of four years of draconian Government cuts to keep local services in South Tyneside running.
“They care for our elderly and our vulnerable, keep our streets clean, and educate and look after our children.
“They deserve better treatment than they have had at the hands of this Government.
“Taking strike action is never easy but our members are sending a clear message to the Government that they have had enough.
“Low-paid women make up the backbone of most local councils and they deserve to be paid a decent wage.
“The employers must get back into talks immediately to avoid a damaging dispute.”
Most civic buildings in South Tyneside will be closed to the public tomorrow. But buildings operated solely by South Tyneside Homes and BT South Tyneside will be open as usual.
The council’s contact centre at South Shields Town Hall will be closed to the public, but inquiries can still be made on 427 7000.
As a result of the action, all bin collections tomorrow will be cancelled.
These bins will be emptied on the next due collection date, Thursday, July 24.
Meanwhile, firefighters in the borough will also be on strike tomorrow from 10am to 7pm in support of their ongoing pensions claim.
Source – Shields Gazette, 09 July 2014
Rising rent arrears, increased use of food banks and soaring demands for advice services are revealed in a shock new report focusing on the impact welfare reforms are having in South Tyneside.
The Coalition Government’s welfare reform programme represents the biggest change to the welfare state since the Second World War with a raft of changes to benefits and tax credits to help cut spending and streamline services.
A new report by Helen Watson, South Tyneside Council’s corporate director for children, adults and families, outlines the human impact reforms are having in the borough.
It says that, within six months of the bedroom tax being introduced, rent arrears in the borough rose by 19 per cent – £81,000.
In total, South Tyneside Homes rent collection rates have fallen by 21 per cent over the last year, resulting in a loss of £331,000.
There has also been a 20 per cent increase in the demand for advice services since April last year.
Over the same period there has been a big rise in people using the borough’s three food banks, with a 50 per cent hike in referrals over the last 12 months.
There are 2,770 residents affected by the bedroom tax, with Tyne Dock, Victoria Road and Laygate, all South Shields, and The Lakes and Lukes Lane estates, in Hebburn, most affected.
Meanwhile, the number of out-of-work benefits being paid in the borough has been reduced in recent months, with a 22 per cent fall in claims for Jobseekers Allowance since April – 1,556 claimants.
The report makes grim reading for Coun Jim Foreman, the lead member for housing and transport at South Tyneside Council.
Coun Foreman believes the welfare reforms are having a “tsunami effect” and says the Government is “burying its head in the sand” by denying any direct connection between rising rent arrears and food bank usage and the welfare reforms.
He said: “The Government says there is no correlation between benefit cuts and the rise in food banks but they are just burying their heads in the sand.
“People don’t go to food banks out of choice. They go there because they are living in poverty. Having to use them is an attack on their pride and their resilience.”
Coun Foreman also expressed admiration for the “phenomenal work” being done by borough Citizens Advice Bureau staff and the South Tyneside Homes’ Welfare Reform team in a bid to minimise the impact of reforms.
He added: “It is not just a matter of the benefit cuts themselves but also the sanctions that are imposed if claimants turn up five minutes late for an appointment or don’t fill in a form or don’t make 15 applications for work in a week.
“All this is having a massive impact on the ability of people to provide for themselves and their families.”
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith, the driving force behind the welfare reforms, has claimed increased publicity over food banks was the reason for their rising popularity.
He said: “Food banks do a good service, but they have been much in the news. People know they are free. They know about them and they will ask social workers to refer them. It would be wrong to pretend that the mass of publicity has not also been a driver in their increased use.”
The welfare report is due to be presented to the council’s Riverside Community Area Forum at South Shields Town Hall at 6pm on Thursday.
Source – Shields Gazette 22 April 2014
Could too much compassion in the welfare state hurt the very people it is supposed to help?
> How would we know ? Its never been tried….
Ed Miliband suggests that might be the case.
In a recent speech he drew on the ideas of a sociologist – Richard Sennett – who said compassion had the power to wound.
One of the Labour leader’s closest aides – the shadow minister Lord Wood – says that Sennett has made a “deep impression” on Miliband.
If the language sounds a bit academic, the reaction to Sennett’s theory at a South London woman’s group called Skills Network is anything but.
In a couple of rooms beside a railway line, women gather for training, moral support and shared childcare.
Many are single parents, some do not have permanent homes.
Most rely on the state. None trusts it.
“We are patronised by all these people that are supposed to be there for us,” says Onley.
“Anyone of official status comes to visit a family you’re almost on edge, even down to midwives after you’ve had a baby,” adds Hannah.
They are not merely sceptical of the state’s professionals, they see them as a threat.
One mother explains her experience of being visited by social workers.
“They always have a tick register in their purse and they take it out,” she says. “All these things are useless. Nothing is changing my life. In fact they’re wasting my time and their time.”
The feeling for some is not of disenchantment, but outright hostility.
Onley says: “Because you’re given something does that mean we should just lie there and take whatever you give us and don’t argue about anything or ask any questions?
“People need to be treated as equal human beings.”
Sennett blames that attitude on the way the state works. He has written: “Charity itself has the power to wound; pity can beget contempt; compassion can be intimately linked to inequality.“
> Yeah, but the biggest problem surely is not too much compassion – its not enough compassion.
Like the lack of compassion that enforces benefit sanctions that drive people to poverty and crime. Like the lack of compassion that claims that people at death’s door are fit for work.
The danger here is that the likes of Milliband (just another neo-liberal, after all) will use dodgy concepts like “too much compassion being bad for people” as a basis for more cuts.
And perhaps any sociologist who thinks “Charity itself has the power to wound; pity can beget contempt; compassion can be intimately linked to inequality”, wants to wait until they’re actually reliant on it before they start talking bollocks.
In an interview for BBC Radio 4’s the World at One programme, Wood says Labour is interested in the idea that inequality is partly about the gap in respect and power between the state, and people on the receiving end of its services and benefits.
In embracing some of Sennett’s thinking, Wood suggests Miliband intends to do things differently from the way previous Labour administrations have behaved.
“Here’s the difference with maybe Labour parties of before,” he says. “In addressing inequality you can’t just have a central state that adds up the ledger of who is doing well and who is doing not and just sort of reshuffle money around and ask people to fit certain categories that the government’s devised.
“You’ve got to think about shifting power back down as well as thinking about inequality in a deeper sense.”
> I’ve read that several times. It still seems to say exactly nothing…
That sounds a little like the critique of Gordon Brown’s attempts to deal with child poverty: that he was merely redistributing money to nudge people over a statistical line so they were no longer classed as impoverished.
Wood – who worked for Brown – does not repeat that criticism.
Pressed for examples of how his concerns translate into policy he highlights plans to hand control of parts of the work programme to some towns and cities and ideas about giving people more of a voice about where housing is built and how it’s allocated.
He argues that responsibility for policy needs to change so people affected by decisions feel they have a say.
Labour’s opponents will say that this is vague stuff.
The government argues it already understands the problem.
Ministers say they are changing the culture for benefit claimants, making their responsibilities clearer, and giving social housing tenants control of their own housing benefit.
Others will simply reflect that a focus on getting people off benefits and into jobs would sidestep many of these issues. With public money tight, officials would need to think carefully before skimping on the scrutiny they apply to the way funds are spent.
> If you wanted to be really radical, you could accept that the number of unemployed is around five times greater than the number of vacancies, and you will never get a quart into a pint pot.
Then, when you’ve got your head around this fact, then you might want to start thinking about where we go from here.
But until politicians can be honest enough to admit what the rest of us know – that there will always be more unemployed than jobs – then we’re never going to get anywhere.
Sennett is – unsurprisingly – pleased that Miliband embraces his thinking, but he doesn’t easily fit the mould of a “Miliband guru“.
He votes for the Green party and describes Miliband as “not a particularly charismatic politician” who may never have the chance to implement his idea.
And if Miliband does want to reshape Britain’s relationship with its welfare state, it won’t be easy.
In South London Hannah reflects on her encounters with its professionals.
“It’s almost like having the crocodile smile,” she says.
“You see all the smiley teeth and you’re waiting for the bite to come and get you.”
Source BBC News 17 April 2014