Council cabinet members with responsibility for children’s services across London have co-signed a cross-party letter calling for an end to the funding crisis in Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) services.
The initiative, led by Tower Hamlets Councillor Danny Hassell, sees 26 London boroughs warn the government that ‘we have now reached a tipping point’ as a massive cash shortfall grips special needs services across the country.
The funding from the government for SEND services has failed to keep pace with the increasing demand for services, leaving councils to plug the gaps. The funding received also fails to recognise that councils are providing services for more children with more complex needs, or that the role of councils has been extended – local authorities are now required to provide support to young people with an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP) up to the age of 25.
Over the period 2016/17 to 2018/19, Tower Hamlets saw a 48% increase in the number of children with an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP). Despite this, the funding received from the Government is not linked to the rising numbers of children who rely on the services, or their complexity of need.
Last year Tower Hamlets received £49.7m from the Government for SEND funding, but it spent more than £56m on services.
This funding gap is seen across the country, with the LGA estimating that councils in England face a SEND funding gap of up to £1.6 billion by 2021. The situation is particularly serious in London, where the total in-year shortfall for 2017/18 across SEND services came to £77 million and is likely to rise significantly this year.
Campaigners have welcomed the recent announcement from the government about additional funding for special needs services but warn that greater detail is needed from ministers, particularly given that the government has made a series of big spending pledges in the run-up to a widely anticipated but not yet announced general election.
Leading the cross-capital initiative Councillor Danny Hassell, Cabinet Member for Children, Schools and Young People, said: “Our cross-party letter to the government highlights just how serious the SEND funding crisis has become. With demand for services rapidly increasing but funding at a standstill, we have now reached a tipping point with potentially very serious consequences.
“The funding we receive from government for special needs services is well below what we actually have to spend, leaving enormous budget gaps that local councils need to fill. The situation is completely unsustainable and the government cannot allow this crisis to continue. The children and young people who rely on these vital services need and deserve better.”
“We welcome the recent announcement from the government about extra cash for special needs budgets, but the devil will be in the detail. I am concerned that this does not go the full way to closing the budget gap on high needs spending from last year – let alone what the gap is anticipated to be next year.”
Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs said: “Special needs provision faces a crisis across the country, a crisis which is hitting London particularly badly. The government is failing to fund SEND services properly and without immediate and urgent action the crisis will only get much worse, with serious implications for some of the most vulnerable children and young people in our society.”