A new report by the Children’s Commissioner has stated that around £226 million was reported as planned spending on low-level mental health services in the financial year 2018/19, surmounting to around £14 per child.
Total reported spend across all areas increased by 17% in real terms, but despite the positive figures, “too many children are still turned away today because they do not meet the threshold, either because their mental health problem is emerging or because it is not considered serious enough for over-stretched services to offer help”, warns Anne Longfield, children’s commissioner for England.
Despite the overall increase, there is a wide variation between areas and agencies in reported spending, as the top 25% of local areas spent £1.1 million or more, while the bottom 25% spent £177,000 or less.
Also, whilst 58% of areas saw an increase in spending, a worrying 37% saw a real-term fall. Due to this, the report stated that “This is very concerning at a time when more funding has been put into children’s mental health at a national level. It also reinforces the ‘postcode lottery’ caused by large variations in spending across areas.”
Anne continued: “There is a danger that we continue to have a system that fails to help children until they are so unwell that they need specialist-intervention. Many of the children I speak to want to avoid highly-clinical services. They want help that is easily accessible, with minimum upheaval, procedure and stigma.
Local partners need to work together on a joined-up plan in each area to offer support to children who do not need specialist care. Areas that are not putting in enough money must be held to account. And central government and the NAO should collect this data annually in future. I hope that MPs and parents as well as children will put pressure on them to do so.”
The report clamed that the spending seems to be more of an issue for local authorities than for spending by clinical commissioning groups, and has called on the government to build on previous work and gather clearer data on local spending.