Written evidence from the Association of Directors of Children’s Services Ltd (ADCS) (CPM0008)


  1. Introduction


1.1.           The Association of Directors of Children’s Services Ltd (ADCS) is pleased to make this written submission to the Work and Pensions Committee. ADCS is the national leadership organisation in England for directors of children’s services (DCSs) appointed under the provisions of the Children Act 2004, and for other senior managers in the local authority. The Association provides a national voice as champion for children and young people with local and central government.


1.2.           There are around 12 million children and young people in this country, over a third of whom (or 4.2 million) live in poverty, with the Institute for Fiscal Studies projecting this figure would rise to 5.2 million in 2021/22 (IFS, 2017) even before the events of the last 12 months.  The Institute for Public Policy Research recently estimated that an additional 200,000 children will have been pulled into poverty by the end of 2020 as a result of Covid-19 while the Joseph Rowntree Foundation suggest a further 300,000 children would fall into poverty overnight if the temporary £20 weekly uplift to Universal Credit payments is not retained next month. 


1.3.           The impact of Covid-19 has not been evenly spread and it has simultaneously exposed and heightened the stark disparities between disadvantaged children and their more affluent peers.  From hunger, ill-health and overcrowded, cold, damp homes to children’s access to safe, outside spaces to play or technology and therefore opportunities to learn at home.  There is a growing sense of urgency to address child poverty in a coordained way and the pandemic has shown us what we can achieve when we work together.  Local authorities administered the Covid-19 Winter Grant Scheme to support the most vulnerable children and families in our communities in short order, homelessness was temporarily eradicated in the first lockdown and the vaccine rollout, the largest logistical operation since the second world war, is progressing at pace.


1.4.           Children are already the group most likely to be in poverty, and child poverty has been rising in both absolute and relative terms since 2012 but progress is possible; between the mid-1990s and 2008 over one million children were lifted out of poverty in the UK, the largest reduction in an OECD country (CPAG, 2020). 


1.5.           Members of ADCS would welcome the opportunity to give oral evidence to the Committee.  Please contact the relevant policy officer in the first instance via katy.block@adcs.org.uk.


  1. Definition and measurement of child poverty and its impact


2.1.           The Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016 introduced four ‘life chances indicators’ as the key measures of child poverty: the number of children living in workless and in long-term workless households and the GCSE results of disadvantaged children compared with their peers.  This focus on workless households in national reporting no longer reflects the presentation of poverty; 72% of children and young people experiencing poverty now live in a household where at least one parent or carer is working (CPAG, 2020).  ADCS has not developed an agreed position on the best way to measure child poverty, however, we see its impact daily. A greater focus on income and material deprivation in national targets and reporting is widely supported.  Housing costs and quality should be considered here too. 


2.2.           The 2016 Act envisaged the development of a life chances strategy, described at the time as a comprehensive plan to fight disadvantage and extend opportunity, in place of an earlier duty to publish a national child poverty reduction strategy.  The life chances strategy was shelved in favour of a social justice green paper, which has yet to be published.  In the intervening period other reports, plans and programmes dealing with aspects of this issue have been launched e.g. the DWP’s Parental Conflict Programme and the DfE’s Unlocking potential plan focusing on the role of education in social mobility (DfE, 2017).  The devolved governments have developed strategies in this space but there is no equivalent plan to act on child poverty in England (although individual LAs continue to develop localised plans).


2.3.           Brexit has dominated the period since the enactment of the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016, diverting vast amounts of parliamentary time and energy away from domestic policy.  In this period life chances, social mobility, social justice and ‘levelling up’ have variously come into focus.  Early levelling up announcements concerned education, skills and regional devolution, however, the Spending Review 2020 allocated new levelling up funding to town centre regeneration projects, new transport infrastructure and improving school buildings.  ADCS believes a strategy underpinned by clear targets would offer a common goal for national and local government plus frontline services to work towards as well as offering continuity and a framework for accountability. 


2.4.           The impact of poverty, inequality and economic disadvantage on children and young people’s lives and outcomes is stark:



  1. How well the DWP works with other parts of government on this agenda


3.1.           Last year the government’s own Social Mobility Commission published ‘Monitoring Social Mobility 2013 to 2020,’ which noted that: “There is mounting evidence welfare changes over the past 10 years have put many more children into poverty… The DWP appears to have done very little work to ensure it is not making child poverty worse.”  There is limited contact between the DWP and children’s services beyond work on specific programmes, most notably the Reducing Parental Conflict Programme. 


3.2.           Children’s services offer practical help and support to a growing number of children and families falling through the welfare safety net under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989, which places a general duty on LAs to safeguard and promote the welfare of ‘children in need.’  Latest available data indicates that 66 English LAs supported 2,450 households with ‘no recourse to public funds’ who are at risk of destitution due to their immigration status at an annual cost of £44 million in 2019/20 (NRPF Connect, 2020).  These costs are met out of the central budget allocations from MHCLG, the principle source of funding for children’s services.  Beyond NRPF families, children’s services are also regularly making referrals to food banks, buying mattresses, carpets, children’s clothes and other basic essentials for a growing number of families we work with who simply cannot afford them under Section 17. 


3.3.           There does not appear to be a co-ordinated effort between the DWP and the DfE to understand the wider social determinants child poverty or to address it e.g. by joining up education, employment and skills agendas as was envisaged in the life chances strategy.  Indeed, there is no cross-departmental mechanism that brings together policy, time-limited initiatives and different pots of funding for vulnerable children and families.


3.4.           The DfE spends considerable sums mitigating the impact of poverty on children and young people’s lives and educational outcomes, for example:


3.5.           ADCS has previously called for the development of a ‘children and young people impact assessment’ (ADCS, 2017) for government departments and other public bodies to use alongside existing equalities impact assessments.  It is not clear how the DWP considered the impact of its policies on children and young people’s lives and outcomes.  Beyond the initial payment delays and sanctions attached to Universal Credit, the latest government figures show over 900,000 children now live in households affected by the two child limit (DWP, 2020).  Additionally, one social worker responding to our 2020 survey with CPAG and CWIP noted: “Universal Credit isn't enough to live on. I support care experienced young people. I was shocked to discover that Universal Credit as a sole source of income can mean young people don't pass some housing associations’ financial assessments!”


3.6.           The most recent child poverty reduction strategy was published in June 2014 for the period of 2014 – 2017 (DfE, 2014).  Moving into the recovery phase offers the government an opportunity to turbo charge its levelling up efforts.  Whilst education is of course important, the social conditions that support children to engage in learning and thrive must also be in place requiring urgent, coordinated action on poverty and inequality.  Poverty constrains opportunity, only through collective actions can we drive change to achieve a country that works for all children.





February 21