24th Oct 2012: Birmingham council cuts put children at risk

Our city’s social services are in the spotlight once again. Ofsted has slammed Birmingham City Council, rating the quality of their care of vulnerable children as ‘inadequate’.

Following an unannounced visit last month it concluded that the council’s children’s services department “is not doing what is required to keep children and young people safe”.

There are around 30,000 referrals to Birmingham Social Services each year. At least 20 children across the city have died through abuse and neglect since April 2005.

The council was judged to be inadequate at safeguarding children in 2008, seven months after seven year old Khyra Ishaq starved to death at her home in Handsworth.

Child poverty

But the latest Ofsted report reveals a continuing lack of immediate action by social workers and far too few statutory visits.

It stated that the inspection “found that too many children and young people are left for too long without a robust assessment, leaving some children at risk of harm”.

Birmingham has some of the highest levels of poverty in the country. 35 out of the 40 wards in the city have levels of child poverty above the national average.

In the seven poorest wards the percentage of children living in poverty ranges from 52.5% to 61.9%.

Between 2004 and 2012 the city council was controlled by a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition which presided over cuts and privatisation.

This year Labour regained control and some workers expected things to change. However, as in other parts of the country, Labour has willingly wielded the Tories’ axe and is cutting or destroying vital public services.

Impact of the cuts

The council has stated that “Despite savings having to be made, the council’s number one priority is still to provide the essential services that Birmingham people want and need most.”

But as a result of Labour’s cuts-budget £22 million is being cut from the Children’s and Young People’s services budget for 2012/13 leaving social workers with even fewer resources to effectively deal with an increasing number of at-risk children.

This will only get worse given the council’s announcement on 23 October that it will be making a devastating £600 million of cuts by 2017.

According to a recent study one council reported a 70% increase in referrals to children’s social care in 18 months, alongside a 50% rise in child protection cases.

It is plainly obvious that cuts to our public services are leaving the most vulnerable people in society at greater risk of abuse or worse.

It is vital that the working class stands up for them and fights all cuts – regardless of which party is making them.

Safina Bi and Tony Leigh

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