Around 60% of local authority areas have seen a real-terms fall in spending on low-level mental health services for children, a new report has revealed.
‘Low-level’ mental health services are early interventions for treating problems like depression or eating disorders. They are provided, for example, by drop-in centres or online counselling services.
A new study by the Children’s Commissioner for England has revealed that local areas – including councils and NHS spending – allocated a total of £226m for low-level mental health services in 2018/19. This amounts to just over £14 per child.
The total reported spend on these services across all areas in England increased by 22% between 2016/17 and 2018/19 in cash terms, and by 17% in real terms.
However, Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner, found that over a third of areas around the country still saw a real-terms fall in spending – with nearly 60% of local authorities seeing a drop.
The report also shows there were wide variations between areas in how much funding is available. The top 25% of local areas spent at least £1.1m or more, while the bottom 25% spent £180,000 or less.
‘This report reveals for the first time the postcode lottery facing the increasing number of children suffering from low-level mental health conditions like anxiety and depression,’ said Ms. Longfield.
‘It is extremely worrying that a third of local areas in England are actually reducing real terms spending on these vital services.’
‘Local authorities are under huge financial pressure and many are doing a good job, but those who are spending barely anything on low-level mental health cannot continue to leave children to struggle alone,’ she added.
Responding to the report, the chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, said: ‘Significant funding pressures mean many councils are being forced to cut some of the vital early intervention services which can support children with low level mental health issues and avoid more serious problems in later life.
‘Children’s services face a funding gap of £3.1bn by 2025 while public health services, which also help children get the best start in life, have seen cuts of £700m.
‘If we are to improve provision of preventative and early intervention services then it is vital the Government adequately funds these in the forthcoming Spending Review.’
Action for Children’s director of policy and campaigns, Imran Hussain, commented: ‘These figures reveal the disturbing reality that vast numbers of children in England are getting locked out of the early help that can prevent mental health difficulties spiralling into something more serious.
‘Government cuts have resulted in a third of local areas cutting back on these vital crisis-prevention services.’