Stuart Jacob, director Falkland House School, says the autumn statement does nothing to allay fears of a lost generation of children with additional support needs
Chancellor Philip Hammond’s autumn statement has delivered further public finance woes for the Scottish Government, with a continuation of the austerity agenda and cuts in the budget for public services.
Local authorities have borne the brunt of this, with a £500 million cut in last year’s budget and a worrying wait until the Scottish Government budget on 15 December to see what next financial year’s settlement will be.
The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA ), has warned that there is “no more meat on the bone” and that any future cuts would amount to severe cuts in vital services and job losses in communities. In addition to this, over the last five years 40,000 jobs have been shed in local government.
It is the most vulnerable that suffer through such cuts and Scotland faces a ‘lost generation’ of children with additional support needs (ASN), such as those with autism, mental health problems and dyslexia, if cuts in public services that impact on them are not reversed.
Scotland faces a ‘lost generation’ of children with additional support needs if cuts in public services that impact on them are not reversedStuart Jacob
In 2015 for Scotland as a whole 22.5% of pupils were recorded as having ASN, with these pupils disproportionally coming from lower income households and areas of deprivation.
This increasing number of those with ASN and the resulting increase in demand on services is set against a background of continuing cuts.
Those children and young people with ASN have lower levels of educational attainment and are less likely to go onto positive destinations than their peers. Therefore, while political parties have highlighted their ambition to close the educational attainment gap, failing to provide support for the most vulnerable makes such an ambition even more challenging.
It is a false economy to further cut services to these children and young people, who if their needs are not met often go on to become a costly burden on society and the economy, outweighing any potential short-term savings made.
In addition to protecting services for vulnerable children and young people, the current fiscal challenges facing the Scottish Government and local authorities provides an opportunity to progress much-needed public service reform.
These opportunities include promoting the development of effective strategic partnerships and innovative service solutions between local authorities and service providers, such as third sector and independent organisations. The child or young person should be at the centre of this process, receiving the care and support they need, whether this is best-provided by the public sector, or the independent or third sectors.
The Scottish Government and local authorities need to do what they can to reverse budget cuts and to increase investment in services, so that the most effective services for children and young people with ASN can be delivered. Failing to do this will leave us with the prospect of a lost generation of vulnerable children and young people, not only impacting on the individuals themselves, but resulting in a costly burden to the public purse.
Stuart Jacob is director at Falkland House School, which is a member of the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition.