Our recommendations for the Autumn 2021 Budget

Driving home recently I was listening to a Radio 4 programme in which a focus group were given £10 and asked to distribute it across a long list of priorities from public sector pay to research. They could also raise taxes and distribute an extra £5. Only one of them chose to raise taxes, but funding for families in need was a popular investment.

Government spending plans for the next three years are to be set out at the Spending Review next Wednesday, 27th October, alongside an Autumn Budget. How the government decides to carve up public spending will impact all our lives – from education and health to local government. In England, each Whitehall Department will have set out its request directly to the Treasury, a difficult task that requires Ministers and their civil servants to wrestle with competing priorities. Similarly, the devolved administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales will learn how much they have to spend on the vital services in the next few years.

Importantly for the adoption community in England, the Department for Education will have put forward specific funding asks for adoption support services, including the therapeutic services provided by the Adoption Support Fund. So too, will the Department of Health and Social Care, which will likely include requests for significant investment in mental health services. Need here has risen sharply since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and with half of adopted young people seeking mental health support last year, the adoptive community will be watching closely for improved support.

Adoption UK submitted proposals to the Department for Education and the Treasury on spending priorities for the sector. These have been formed from the experiences and opinions of the adoption community, evidenced in the thousands of survey responses received over the last few years, including to our annual Adoption Barometer.

Our recommendations are:

  1. Multi-disciplinary assessments and support plans for every child
  2. Adoption Support Fund in England to be increased and extended
  3. Provide trauma training for all new teachers
  4. Extend education support for adopted young people
  5. Improve the management of birth family contact
  6. Give self-employed adopters and special guardians equal access to parental leave and pay
  7. Extend support for families affected by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

If I were the Chancellor, the list above would use up £7 of my tenner, and I’d give the remaining £3 to the devolved nations for dedicated adoption support.

Rishi Sunak, of course, is able to invest more than the hypothetical tenner from Radio 4’s PM show. But despite the optimistic community recovery intentions embodied in the government’s Build Back Better mantra, the likelihood of investment at the scale needed to deliver our wishlist is low. With the nation facing massive covid-induced debt our expectations are being carefully managed.

After a decade of cuts to funding for local government, the money available to councils for children’s social services has been greatly reduced - exacerbated by annual rises in the number of children coming into care. Local authorities also report children with more complex needs than ten years ago, ramping costs further. According to the Local Government Association, more than 8 in 10 councils are currently having to overspend to ensure children are protected. This just isn’t viable, and despite the pressures on the public purse, the Peterborough focus group have it right. We need to invest in families, despite – and in many cases because of – the economic challenges the country faces in the wake of the pandemic.

We will report back on the announcement in due course, and the potential impact this might have on our community. As adoptive family after adoptive family has demonstrated, the only thing more expensive than investing in family support is not investing in family support. The only way to truly level up is to ensure that all our young people, especially those who had an unfair start in life, have an equal chance to thrive.

Sue Armstrong Brown