Children and young people

Children’s social care

Children’s social care – safeguarding children at risk of harm and supporting children in need – is funded and delivered by local authorities in England. Local authorities have a legal duty to provide care to children in need – including support for disabled children, monitoring children who are the subjects of child protection plans, and supporting children placed in foster and residential care. 

Spending on children’s social care increased by 16% in real terms after 2009/10, but the number of children who are the subject of a child protection plan and the number of children in care rose faster – by 38% and 17% respectively. Over the same time period, the percentage of social worker visits carried out on time to children on child protection plans declined from 97% to 91%, and local authorities have persistently spent more than they have budgeted on children’s social care. In 2017/18, local authorities overspent on children’s social care by £957m, up from £237m in 2010/11.

Local authorities will struggle to maintain even this lower level of performance given workforce pressures. The number of social worker vacancies rose from 3,610 to 5,810 between 2013/14 and 2018/19, though they did fall slightly in the last year. In 2018, 62% of social workers responding to a survey on working conditions and wellbeing, fielded by the British Association of Social Workers said they were considering leaving their current job, up from 55% the year before.

Last year, Theresa May’s government announced that local authorities would receive an additional £410m this year, to be split between social care for children and adults. But without further reducing funding for other council services, local authorities will struggle next year to meet rising demand while providing the same standard of care.


As of 2019, there were almost 17,000 state primary schools and almost 3,500 state secondary schools in England, which together educated 6.73 million (m) pupils aged 5–15. Most secondary schools (75%) and approximately one-third of primary schools (32%) are ‘academies’ – that is, state schools which operate independently. The rest are local authority ‘maintained’ schools, whose funding flows through local authorities.

Until recently, schools in England did not face the same financial pressures as other public services. Per-pupil spending initially slightly increased in real terms but fell by around 4% in both primary and secondary schools between 2015/16 and 2018/19. School performance – at least as judged by pupil attainment – has broadly held up, although the share of secondary schools running deficits rose from 30% to 66% between 2010/11 and 2017/18, suggesting that schools have had to draw on reserves in order to maintain this performance.

Whether schools will be able to maintain current performance is the bigger concern, as there are serious and worsening problems in recruiting and retaining enough teachers – particularly in secondary schools. The government has missed its targets for recruiting teachers every year since 2012/13; it recruited 14% fewer secondary school teachers than it planned to in 2018/19. The three-year teacher retention rate for new teachers – that is, how many teachers are still in post after three years – has declined amongst each cohort of newly qualified teachers since 2010.

The government has confirmed that it will increase school funding by £2.6bn in 2020/21, £4.8bn in 2021/22, and £7.1bn in £2022/23, which the Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates will almost restore real-terms per pupil funding to the level it was at in 2009/10. The government has announced that some of this money will be ringfenced to support children with special educational needs and disabilities, and some will be used to increase teacher starting salaries to £30,000 by 2022/23 to ease recruitment and retention pressures.